JONATHAN WOODGATE is hoping his cautious approach to Britt Assombalonga’s recovery from injury will help ensure the striker stays fit for the final three months of the season.

Assombalonga ended a seven-week lay-off when he came off the bench in the second half of last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Blackburn Rovers, having been sidelined since his ankle was damaged in a foul by Charlton Athletic midfielder Darren Pratley in early December.

An initial attempt at a comeback was shelved when the striker complained of continuing pain on the training ground, and rather than rushing his leading goalscorer back for the busy Christmas period, Woodgate opted to tread carefully in order to prevent any long-term damage.

Assombalonga trained for more than a week before he was restored to the first-team squad last weekend, and has taken part in full training duties in the last few days after reporting no ill effects from his appearance against Blackburn.

There is every chance he will return to the starting line-up when Boro travel to in-form Brentford on Saturday, with Woodgate delighted to have him back in the fray.

“He had a really bad tackle from Pratley, and it took longer than we anticipated because it was such a nasty tackle,” said the Boro boss, who was adamant Assombalonga would not be leaving in last month’s transfer window despite interest from Aston Villa, Leeds United and Nottingham Forest.

“I think at times, through the eagerness of Britt, we’ve tried to get him back too early and that’s delayed things a bit. But he’s back now, so I’m absolutely over the moon. He trained for the ten days (before the Blackburn game) constantly, so he’s another option for us.”

As well as Assombalonga contending for a starting spot at Griffin Park, Woodgate can also add deadline-day signings Ravel Morrison and Harold Moukoudi to his squad for this weekend’s game.

Morrison is effectively a replacement for the injured Patrick Roberts, while Moukoudi, who signed on loan from St Etienne, is an alternative option at centre-half, which has been a problem position all season.

While Jonny Howson and Paddy McNair have impressed as makeshift centre-halves in the last couple of months, Woodgate would like to restore McNair in particular to his more preferred position in midfield, something that should be easier to achieve with Moukoudi in the side.

“In France, you know Middlesbrough,” said Moukoudi, who was born just outside Paris but is a senior international with Cameroon. “I played here in pre-season and I saw a good team, good players and a younger group. For me, I think that’s the best. I want to help the team progress because I am a young player myself.

“I had a lot of clubs interested in this window, but I chose Middlesbrough. It’s good for my progression to be here. I will try to be cool and aggressive, and learn the tactics and mentality of the group.”