GARETH SOUTHGATE could hand Egyptian striker Mido a return to action tonight and in the process damage Middlesbrough's chances of putting distance between themselves and the bottom- three.

The £6m signing has not figured for Boro since the defeat to Chelsea on October 20, after suffering a stress fracture to his pubic bone.

But his expected outing for the reserves against Wigan at Billingham Synthonia tonight could open the door to the African Cup of Nations for the former Tottenham player.

The Ghana tournament starts on January 20 and he has been named in a provisional squad but his appearance in the finals rests on whether he declares himself fully fit.

Egypt manager Hassan Shehata wants Mido involved and if available for his club then he will be compelled by FIFA rules to represent his homeland if called upon.

The departure of Mido would heighten Southgate's need to add a new striker to his ranks, although he is keen to do that regardless of Mido's situation.

Sheffield United's Rob Hulse, Reading's Leroy Lita and Newcastle's Shola Ameobi are three options for the Middlesbrough manager.

And Southgate, who played teenager Ben Huthchinson up front on his own at Bristol City on Saturday, said: "Mido will hopefully have 45 minutes with the reserves this week. If everything is alright then there is a chance he could be on the bench this weekend (against Liverpool).

"But if we could bring someone in it would give everyone a lift. Everyone would like a fresh face at this time of year. There is possibly some (money to spend) whether we have to generate some or we have some there already.

I've got a fantastic chairman and if we feel it is right to go in to the market we will.

"But I have to make sure that we don't focus all the attention on that. We have to make the most of the players we have got, who did a great job at Bristol."

Mido was infamously involved in an altercation with Shehata in the last African Cup of Nations two years ago after being replaced in the semi-final victory over Senegal.

He had to be restrained by two team-mates as the argument threatened to boil over, but his relationship with the coach has improved since. Now there is every chance he will be expected to help Egypt try to retain the trophy.

Ideally Southgate would prefer to bring in a striker with a proven goalscoring record at the highest level, with Heerenveen's Afonso Alves among his targets.

However, with the likes of Manchester City's interest pushing up his valuation Middlesbrough's chances of matching an inflated price-tag appear slim.

However, it is believed Newcastle are willing to listen to offers for Ameobi and he is someone Southgate is monitoring.

But he said: "We are linked with so many players. If I don't say no to a player when I'm asked then everyone will assume he is coming. But we're linked with strikers every day of the week."

Southgate, who has recently admitted he will only make additions if the deal is right for the club, is determined to bolster his squad this month.

He is hopeful his relationship with midfielder George Boateng has been smoothed over after their much-publicised spat ahead of the New Year's Day visit of Everton.

However, there remains interest in the Dutchman and it could be the 32-year-old departs if a suitable offer comes along, with Portsmouth, Wigan and Sunderland all thought to be interested.

With both Lee Cattermole and Julio Arca suspended for the visit of Liverpool, it is difficult to see how Southgate can overlook Boateng on Saturday.