JONNY HOWSON and Ashley Fletcher are closing in on a return to senior action after stepping up their training in the last 24 hours.

The Middlesbrough duo have both returned to the training pitch at Rockliffe Park after lengthy injury lay-offs, with Neil Warnock expecting both to be back available by the middle of next month.

Howson could be involved in the FA Cup third-round game at Brentford on January 9, while Fletcher is more likely to be targeted at the Championship home game with Birmingham City on January 16.

Warnock said: "Jonny Howson is still out, but he’s busting a gut to get back – it’s the physios that are trying to hold him back. It wouldn’t surprise me to possibly see Jonny available for part of the cup game.

"I’d say Ashley is just two to three weeks away now. Looking at him yesterday, wow, he looked really good. He said he’s feeling really well, and he’s stepping up his training fully.

"He’s going to go into a two-week training with the fitness guys. He’ll be busting a gut. Talking to him yesterday, he’s been watching the team and he’s been enjoying what he’s been seeing. It’s good to know that he’s close to coming back."

Boro return to action at Sheffield Wednesday tomorrow, with Warnock expecting to be selecting from the same squad that was available for the win at Birmingham that preceded the Christmas break.