WHILE MIDDLESBROUGH will bolster their ranks with signings this summer, it isn't just new faces who will strengthen the squad come the start of pre-season.

Michael Carrick will also be delighted to see a group of key players who missed large chunks of this season through injury back on the training pitches and fully fit ahead of next term.

How different things might have been for Boro - who finished just four points shy of the Championship play-off places - had they been able to call on the likes of Hayden Hackney, Riley McGree and Marcus Forss all season.

Dael Fry and Josh Coburn were other key absentees in the second half of the campaign, while Carrick had to do without Tommy Smith and Darragh Lenihan for the vast majority of the season after the defensive duo suffered serious injuries that resulted in long lay-offs. Tom Glover was also missing from the squad for the final four games after having minor surgery on a finger injury.

But all of the above are expected to be fit for when the players report back to Rockliffe for the start of pre-season. And, says Carrick, they'll all be "desperate" to make up for the frustrations of their spells on the sidelines.

After a three-month absence because of a groin issue that disrupted most of Coburn's campaign, the striker was back on the bench for the final day win over Watford.


Fry also resumed training before the season was out, while Carrick said Hackney could have featured if needs be, but the head coach instead sensibly opted to be ultra-cautious with the midfielder, who suffered a knee injury in the Preston defeat back in February.

McGree needed surgery on a foot injury he suffered while away with Australia in March and fellow forward Forss missed the run-in because of a hamstring problem, but Carrick has previously said he expects both to be back for pre-season.

Both Smith and Lenihan were ruled out from last October, but hope to be back in amongst it for the start of the season preparations.

Carrick said: "Unfortunately we had a number of players who have ended up missing quite a bit of football since Christmas time. Dael, Josh, Alex (Bangura), Hayden, then the other boys (McGree, Forss, Lenihan, Smith). There's a group who will be desperate to be ready for pre-season and a fresh start and looking forward to playing a lot of football again.

"It will be great to have them back, to get them back around the group. It seems far off at the moment but certainly for those boys it's a big motivation to get back fit. They missed a lot of football, we'll get them back, hopefully soon, and certainly for pre-season."