JONATHAN WOODGATE thinks Marcus Tavernier is in the midst of his best season for Middlesbrough, even if he has defended the decision to leave him out of two important games against relegation contenders.

Tavernier was used as a late substitute in the draw at Wigan Athletic and left on the bench for the 90 minutes against Luton Town on Saturday as Boro dropped to within six points of the relegation zone.

Woodgate has been searching for the right formula to get Middlesbrough moving in the right direction again having not won since New Year’s Day – a run stretching to nine games, seven in the league.

The Middlesbrough head coach has hinted that Tavernier could be a starter once again when he takes his side to another bottom three club, Barnsley, this Saturday after leaving him out of late.

But Woodgate is adamant nothing should be read into his recent omission, suggesting the 20-year-old has just needed a bit of time out after his most demanding season so far since leaving academy football behind.

“Tav’s done really well, but there’s a time when sometimes you need to come out of the team,” said Woodgate. “When you are a young kid you are not always consistent every single game.

“I need to bear that in mind not only with him but with all the young players. Sometimes you need that little bit of experience in there.

“But I think Tav’s had his best season at the football club this year, he’s played a lot of games, he’s started 19 on the bounce, which I think is incredible for a young kid of 20. He’s going to get more games.”

Tavernier only signed a new three-and-a-half year contract last month despite increased attention from the Premier League and abroad, where he has caught the eye of the likes of Liverpool and Bayer Leverkusen.

Woodgate rates him extremely highly, which is why it has been a surprise to see him left out for two important games against teams in the relegation zone. It will be hoped his fresh legs can influence proceedings at Oakwell this weekend in a positive manner.

Middlesbrough were crying out for some energy and purpose in the final third on Saturday against Luton, when Ashley Fletcher and Lukas Nmecha struggled to make inroads on the Hatters goal.

Nmecha made his third start since moving on loan from Middlesbrough and was unable to cope with the conditions, although he was not the only one.

The 21-year-old – who has also appeared four times from the bench - spent the first half of the season on loan at Wolfsburg from Manchester City and has lacked a bit of confidence in the final third so far at the Riverside.

“Lukas came on the back of a loan from Wolfsburg and hadn’t really played much,” said Woodgate. “He’d only played one or two games. Their training is a totally different intensity to ours so the first couple of games we couldn’t give him the full minutes. He’s trying to get up to speed but it’s not dropping for him at the minute.”

It would be a surprise to see Nmecha keep his place at Barnsley this weekend with Tavernier and Ravel Morrison waiting in the wings. Woodgate would still love to have Roberts to call on but he was ruled out for eight weeks with a hamstring problem after sustaining the injury on January 21.

The Manchester City loanee is progressing well and there were initial hopes that he would be back in the middle of March, but Woodgate does not want to issue a potential return date.

“I don’t want to put too much pressure on Patrick,” said Woodgate. “We have missed him with that link he provides, that’s for the last couple of seasons I’d say.

“Patrick is someone who can create something from nothing. Turn on a sixpence, dance past someone, that’s the sort of player who we are looking to recruit (in the summer).”

Morrison, on loan from Sheffield United, was another to miss out against Luton, even though Middlesbrough needed creativity.

Woodgate explained: “I didn’t think we needed him at that point. One of them things lets see how if he plays at the weekend.”