MIDDLESBROUGH will be without star midfielder Hayden Hackney for a number of weeks but captain Jonny Howson is closing in on a return and is expected to rejoin training next week.

Both Hackney and Howson have been out of action since suffering similar knee injuries in the defeat at Preston earlier this month. Boro were last week awaiting confirmation on the severity of the injuries and Carrick has now revealed Hackney's is more serious than Howson's, with the 21-year-old set to miss at least the next five games, which will take Boro through to the March international break.

It's more positive on Howson but Boro's skipper is not yet back in training so Saturday's game against Stoke will come too soon and he's also unlikely to be ready to return for next Wednesday's visit of Norwich City.


Michael Carrick  is also expected to again be without Dael Fry, Isaiah Jones and Josh Coburn at Stoke on Saturday, while Tommy Smith, Darragh Lenihan and Alex Bangura remain longer term absentees.

“Everyone is nearer, but whether they’re near enough is a different story," said Carrick.

"There is no major change for this game. Dael is doing alright but he’s not ready yet. Hayden is a bit further away.

"He’s probably a good few weeks yet after twisting his knee and unfortunately he hasn’t got away with it so we’ll be without him for a little bit longer. Jonny though, we’re hoping towards the end of next week maybe to be back around the group.

"That’s a positive because we expected that to be a little bit longer. But we’re not getting too carried away with that because we’ve got to get him back training in and around the group.

"We all know what Jonny brings, so it will be great to have him back around the group. We’ve got a couple of good games coming up over the next couple of weeks, so the more bodies around that we can choose from then obviously the better."

Boro were boosted by the return to the squad of Emmanuel Latte Lath for last week's defeat to Plymouth.

Carrick said: “He was looking good and he was looking sharp before his injury. It was a setback. But hopefully we can get Manu back firing and sharp. Getting back playing football and training enough to get him back to that level. "

Boro's season has been disrupted by a number of injuries to key players and Carrick believes the string of setbacks has been a major contributing factor to his side's struggle for consistency.

“One thing I would say is that the injuries, in terms of selection, has resulted in us not being able to pick a consistent team," he said.

"That’s probably more the issue. I certainly don’t believe it’s the players in terms of individuals coming in and out.

"It’s more just the collective consistency more than anything. I’m not here to moan about that, however. Other teams have had injuries and that’s part of it - we have to deal with it.

"We have had a rough ride; rougher than most, but that’s the way it is. We’ll strive for that consistency because as I’ve said for a while, we know what we can do and what we’re capable of doing. It’s doing it more often that’s the difference."