JONATHAN WOODGATE admits he is still negotiating with “one or two players” in an attempt to ensure their availability for Middlesbrough’s final seven matches of the season.

Boro’s relegation worries intensified as they returned to action on Saturday with a resounding 3-0 home defeat to Swansea City that left them level on points with Hull City, the club currently occupying the Championship’s final relegation position.

The Teessiders’ starting line-up contained five players who are currently due to become free agents on June 30 – George Friend, Jonny Howson, Ryan Shotton, Adam Clayton and Rudy Gestede - with a sixth, Marvin Johnson, coming off the bench to play in the second half.

All six players are available for this weekend’s trip to relegation rivals Stoke City, but with their contracts due to expire next week, they have to sign short-term waivers to ensure their eligibility for Boro’s remaining matches against Hull, QPR, Millwall, Bristol City, Reading, Cardiff and Sheffield Wednesday.

Woodgate remains confident all six will sign, but was forced to concede that despite a series of intense negotiations in the last couple of weeks, he is not yet in a position to guarantee their participation.

“They’ll all be available for the next game, and I’d like to think they’ll be okay for beyond that too,” said the Boro boss. “Hopefully, that will be the case. We’re still negotiating with maybe one or two – all the rest have signed. I don’t want to say anything further than that at the minute.”

Shotton and Clayton were both withdrawn at the half-time interval of Saturday’s defeat, although their substitutions are not understood to have related to any contractual issues. Instead, their playing struggles before the interval were an explanation for their failure to reappear in the second half.

Woodgate has defended his team selection for Saturday’s return to action, even though his side were repeatedly torn apart as they conceded three goals in the opening 34 minutes.

The Boro head coach left Britt Assombalonga, Ashley Fletcher and Patrick Roberts on the substitutes’ bench, preferring instead to start with Gestede and loanee Lukas Nmecha in attack.

Gestede and Nmecha failed to record a single effort on target, but it still took until the 69th minute for Assombalonga and Fletcher to come on to the field.

“I thought Rudy was very good in the last game against Charlton,” said Woodgate. “He put in a really good performance, and Nmecha has looked really good in the training sessions. That was the reason I went with them.

“Patrick’s not 100 per cent fit. He’s not 100 per cent yet, but he will get fit. He’ll be involved a lot more with the games, but I have to be careful with him because he’s been out for six months with a hamstring injury and hamstrings can be a very difficult muscle to treat.

“He’s getting fitter and he’s getting back. That’s the only real positive out of it – Patrick has come through 45 minutes in the second half. Apart from that, there weren’t many (other positives).”

Harold Moukoudi was not involved in the squad at all, but the Frenchman is suffering from an illness and should be available to face Stoke.

Boro were undone as they conceded two goals in the space of three minutes, with Rhian Brewster slotting home from close range before volleying a second strike past Dejan Stojanovic.

Swansea claimed a third goal 11 minutes before the break, with Andre Ayew slotting home from the spot after George Friend fouled Conor Gallagher.

“I thought we were very poor,” admitted Woodgate. “And I thought we got cut open at times too easily. They’ve got some exceptional players in Brewster, Conor Gallagher and Andre Ayew, who we just couldn’t pick up.

“It’s hard to explain that performance, and it’s not nice to see. It was the basics of the game at times – following your runners, not turning your back on the ball, organisation. It wasn’t good enough. There was no sign of that performance, that was why I was stunned on the sideline watching.”