JONATHAN WOODGATE will not get distracted by talk that Premier League clubs are sniffing around Middlesbrough’s talented young guns in the remaining months of the season.

The Northern Echo understands that Southampton are seriously interested in offering Lewis Wing the chance to climb up to the next level in the summer.

And the Saints, who are seven points clear of the relegation zone after a recent improvement in form, will keep tabs on the 24-year-old between now and the end of the campaign.

Wing’s six goals have made him Boro’s main attacking threat from midfield this season even though he spent time out of the side after injury.

He remains under contract at the Riverside until 2022 and Middlesbrough head coach Woodgate would love to keep him beyond this summer.

Wing is also interesting other clubs from the higher level including Bournemouth, and his progress has been impressive given he was at Shildon in the Northern League before joining Middlesbrough in 2017.

Middlesbrough are undergoing a change of approach in stricter financial times, which has led to Woodgate turning more to the club’s youth system.

And Wing is not the only player to be on the radar of Premier League sides, with Marcus Tavernier, Hayden Coulson, Dael Fry and Djed Spence all being monitored. Middlesbrough have, though, got them all tied down to new deals.

Talks are also ongoing with goalkeeper Aynsley Pears aimed at getting him to commit to new terms, but there was nothing fresh for Woodgate to report on that front when he was asked last week.

Middlesbrough need a lift from somewhere as they head into this Saturday’s trip to Barnsley on the back of a seven-match winless run in the league.

A draw with Wigan and a defeat to Luton – two sides in the bottom three – has increased the need to collect three points at third from bottom Barnsley at Oakwell.

Middlesbrough sit six points above the relegation zone with a better goal difference but know that dates with automatic promotion contenders Leeds United and Nottingham Forest are on the horizon.

It has emerged, meanwhile, that Barcelona are closing in on a surprise deal to sign former Middlesbrough forward Martin Braithwaite.

A deal for the Denmark international has edged a step closer after the Catalan giants were given special permission by La Liga chiefs to make a signing outside the transfer window after an injury left them striker light.

And Braithwaite, who showed his quality at the Riverside in flashes but was never happy with how things turned out following his £9m switch from Toulouse, has been identified as one of the main contenders to fill the void left by the injured Ousmane Dembele.

Barca have been granted 15 days to do a deal with a free agent or someone who plays in La Liga because Luis Suarez is also sidelined and that leaves them with Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann to call in attack.

Real Sociedad's Wiillan Jose and Leganes front-man Braithwaite top the list of contenders to replace Dembele, although the new recruit would not be able to play in the Champions League.

Braithwaite has an £18m release clause at Leganes and discussions are already said to have taken place with his agent at some level.

Leganes are not happy with the situation given they have not been given dispensation to sign a replacement should Braithwaite be sold. They are 19th in the league and just two points from safety so to lose their top scorer at this stage would be a huge blow.

Tony Pulis was happy for Braithwaite to leave and he recently said: “The biggest disappointment for me is he's the highest paid player I've ever worked with in the Championship.

"As a matter of fact, the last club I worked at, which was a Premier League club, he'd be in the top five earners at the club without a question of a doubt. (Owner) Steve Gibson bent over backwards, backwards, to give that lad everything he wanted to bring him to this club.

"To show the disrespect he's shown to this club by saying he's not coming back, to Steve Gibson, who's made him a multi-millionaire, let's make no bones about it, the wages and what he's earning are astonishing.

"For him to show Steve Gibson that disrespect, and the supporters and his fellow players, it's just amazing.”