CHRIS WILDER expects there to be departures from Middlesbrough in January – and has challenged every one of his players to prove they deserve to be part of the club’s future.

Wilder is still settling into his new position as Boro boss, and having presided over his first game in charge when his side drew 1-1 with Millwall on Saturday, the 54-year-old will be back at the Riverside this evening when Preston travel to Teesside.

The immediate priority is to end a four-game winless run and return to the top half of the table, but as well as looking to make short-term improvements, Wilder and the rest of the Boro hierarchy are also turning their thoughts to the January transfer window, which will offer the opportunity to make longer-term alterations.

Wilder was promised the opportunity to bring in new players when he agreed to succeed Neil Warnock at the start of the month, but also accepts there will be a need to move some existing players on in order to free up squad positions and create some space on the wage bill.

He walked into Rockliffe Park with an open mind, but is already beginning to form judgements that will guide what he attempts to do at the turn of the year.

“There’s a certain amount of work to be done in the January window,” said Wilder, who is set to be without ankle-injury victim Andraz Sporar this evening. “We have targets, and there will be players possibly departing. I think players understand that happens when a new manager comes in playing a different style.

“First impressions are huge. I’m all eyes, I’m all ears, and I’m looking all the time. I’m watching their attitude and what they bring to the football club in loads of different areas.

“I’m going to be making changes, but I’d be delighted if there’s someone in the group that from a distance I think might not fit, but then that all of a sudden, they do things to make me change my mind. It happens. It’s happened at previous clubs, and it’ll happen here.

“It’s over to the players to catch our eye. We have a staff meeting every day, and we’ll come in and talk about our opinion of people. We reflect every day. Who’s caught the eye, how have they been, what’s that player been like through the week? We’re always talking and assessing.

“We don’t have to make any kneejerk reactions because of the six weeks we’ve got, but we will be forming a view and I already have a view on certain things. I’ve looked back and seen a lot of the games, and already know a lot of the players because of the division that I’ve worked in.”

Similarly, thanks to his time spent with Sheffield United, Wilder also has a good handle on a number of the players that he will be looking to recruit when the transfer window reopens.

He has discussed potential targets with Boro’s head of football, Kieran Scott, and is happy that the pair will broadly be singing from the same hymn sheet, whether in terms of permanent additions or possible loan signings from the Premier League.

“We’ve got position-specific targets, and they’ve got to fill what I believe those positions need,” said Wilder. “Out of respect, I’m not going to start naming players, and I won’t even name positions, but we are certainly targeting people.

“Obviously, there’s work on the training ground with myself and Alan (Knill), there’s the physical work we need to be putting into the players, but we’re also taking a medium-term look of how we want it to look in January.

“We’re really excited about how it could look. I do believe this is an attractive place for players to come and do well, whether they’re young loan players, which is important – we target that market and have great contacts – or whether it’s the other market (permanent signings) as well to make us better. It’s really important that we get players in that fit the style and the system.”

This evening, Wilder’s undivided attention will be focused on taking on a Preston side that lost at home to Cardiff at the weekend.

Sporar is unlikely to be available after he was forced off with an ankle issue at the half-time break of Saturday’s game with Millwall, but while Dael Fry and Martin Payero will also miss this evening’s game, the pair should be back in training later this week.

“We’ve got a couple pretty close to coming back,” said Wilder. “Dael is not a million miles away, we’re possibly looking at the back end of the week for him to join in, which is big for us. He’s obviously a big player. Payero is pretty much the same. He’ll miss out against Preston, but isn’t far away.”

Middlesbrough (probable, 3-5-2): Daniels; McNair, Bamba, Peltier; Hernandez, Crooks, Howson, Tavernier, Bola; Watmore, Coburn.