HE has only made one appearance in English football, but Jonathan Woodgate already regards Middlesbrough new boy Harold Moukoudi as a “Premier League player in the making”.

Moukoudi made his Boro debut at Brentford at the weekend, having completed a deadline-day move from French side Saint Etienne, and is set to retain his place in the starting side when the Teessiders travel to Wigan Athletic tonight.

Having played in a flat back four at Griffin Park, there is a good chance the 22-year-old will find himself in a remodelled back five at the DW Stadium, but Woodgate is confident he will take whatever is thrown at him in his stride.

He coped well at the weekend, despite Brentford scoring three goals, and having pushed hard to sign him in the closing stages of the transfer window, Woodgate is confident the Cameroon international will have a bright future in the English game.

“I thought he was very good – he’s a Premier League player in the making in my view,” said the Boro head coach. “And that’s from me only seeing him in a few training sessions and in the game. He’s got all the attributes to play in the Premier League in my opinion.”

Boro will not be making it back to the top-flight this season, but this evening’s game could go a long way towards ensuring they at least stave off the threat of relegation and remain in the Championship.

Claim a first win in eight matches, and Boro will move ten points clear of a Wigan side currently occupying the third of the relegation places. Lose, however, and they will fall back to within four points of the drop zone with 14 games still to play.

It could be a pivotal evening, but while Wigan suffered a home defeat to Preston at the weekend, their form prior to that had been reasonably strong.

Back-to-back victories over Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United proved Wigan are still fighting for their lives, with former Boro transfer target Kieffer Moore one of the most dangerous attackers in the Championship.

“This is a really important game,” said Woodgate, whose side host another of their relegation rivals, Luton Town, at the weekend. “We’ll be going to try to win the game, but they’re a decent enough team and they’ve had some good results of late.

“Okay, against Preston, they got beat, but they’re a decent team and he’s (Paul Cook) got them playing some good football, especially with Kieffer Moore up front. He’s a difficult player to play against.

“Jamal Lowe is another good player. They’ve got those two who can win games at the drop of a hat, so we’ll need to be right at it. It’s important that we don’t lose the game.”

Boro’s form has dipped since they recorded impressive victories at West Brom and Preston in the festive period, but Woodgate remains relatively happy with his side’s overall level of performance.

The FA Cup matches against Tottenham have distorted the pattern of January’s results somewhat, although Woodgate will be worried that his side’s last two away games in the league have ended in defeats at Fulham and Brentford.

Saturday’s display at Griffin Park was positive enough, though, especially once the quality of the opposition is taken into account.

“I thought it was a really good performance, to be honest with you, especially in the second half, where we had a right go,” said Woodgate. “We should have come away with a 2-2 draw really. But I thought, in patches, the performance was very good.

“I thought some of the link-up play was good, and there were some good areas, which we can improve on.

“We had shots on target, we created chances, and if we’d put the one away where Britt (Assombalonga) has a diving header at the front post, it might have been different.

“It’s one of those things, but they’re a very good side. I think they’ll get promoted.”

One of Woodgate’s main selection dilemmas ahead of tonight’s game revolves around Assombalonga, with the striker pushing hard for a first start since early December after coming off the bench in the last two games.

Middlesbrough (probable, 3-4-3): Pears; Howson, Moukoudi, Fry; Spence, McNair, Saville, Coulson; Tavernier, Assombalonga, Fletcher.