MIDDLESBROUGH will prioritise the capture of a midfielder and the permanent signing of Luke Ayling before their attention turns to the forward line this summer.

Boro have decided against trying to sign Lewis O'Brien on a permanent deal after his loan spell from Nottingham Forest, but strengthening in midfield is at the top of the summer wishlist.

Michael Carrick has captain Jonny Howson, Hayden Hackney, who will be fully fit for the start of pre-season, and Dan Barlaser as current midfield options, while Boro have high hopes for Law McCabe, who enjoyed an encouraging breakthrough this season and started his first game for his hometown club against Watford on the final day.

But Boro are understood to be keen on bolstering their ranks in the middle of the park with what has been described as a 'different type' of midfield option to O'Brien, whose season at Boro was disrupted by a serious injury.

Signing Ayling on a permanent deal is seen as a crucial piece of the summer jigsaw after the defender's hugely impressive half season loan at the Riverside.

The 32-year-old will become a free agent this summer when his Leeds United contract expires and talks over a permanent deal have already taken place, with the right-back revealing after the Watford win that an agreement was "close" to being reached.

Boro do have competition in the battle to sign Ayling, with Chris Wilder keen on taking the defender to Sheffield United as the Blades plan for life in the Championship. Birmingham City are also interested, though the Blues look a long shot after their relegation to League One.


Boro want to strengthen their forward line with another striker this summer and targets have been identified - but the club will be patient and see how the centre-forward market plays out to ensure they get the right fit to supplement Emmanuel Latte Lath, who finished the season in blistering form, and Josh Coburn, who will be fully fit again for the start of pre-season.

Boro were this week linked with Tottenham's Will Lankshear. The 19-year-old joined Spurs from Sheffield United for £2m a couple of years ago but has struggled to force way into the first team. Boro have watched Lankshear play for Tottenham's Under-21s this season - they're regulars at youth games of all the Premier League's leading sides - and will monitor his situation, but this week's speculation is likely to be an effort to drum up interest in the teenager.

With Sam Greenwood returning to Leeds United after his loan spell on Teesside, Boro are also in the market for an attacking midfield player this summer.