GARETH SOUTHGATE has spoken for the first time of his dismay at losing the services of goalkeeper Ross Turnbull but predicts England Under- 19 captain Jason Steele is capable of stepping into the breach.

After refusing to sign a new contract at Middlesbrough, Turnbull is not expected to have any trouble finding a new club with Celtic and Chelsea among those showing interest in the highly-rated 24- year-old.

Southgate admitted he may recruit an experienced figure to replace Turnbull but would also have no hesitation in promoting Newton Aycliffe-born Steele to become Brad Jones’ number two.

The Middlesbrough manager is hoping to make a breakthrough in the transfer market well before the squad returns to pre season training on July 6. But a new keeper is well down on his list of priorities as he looks to strengthen the midfield and forward positions.

Keith Lamb, the Boro chief executive, claims the club made “exceptional offers” to extend Turnbull’s stay at the Riverside, but Southgate reluctantly admitted defeat in their bid to retain the keeper.

“I was disappointed to lose Ross,” confirmed the manager.

“He had been with us right through the Academy system and, despite their ups and downs, I thought both he and Brad performed well last season.

“I would have preferred to have kept both of them again for the new season but it wasn’t to be. I thought they both responded well when given the chance after Mark Schwarzer decided to move on last summer.”

Turnbull joined Middlesbrough’s Academy 11 years ago but Southgate is dismayed he’ll leave the club without generating any fee as the manager aims to build a squad capable of securing promotion to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

“What particularly galling of course is that Ross can leave on a free transfer because he’s 24,’’ he said.

“That’s hard to take when the club have done so much to develop him as a goalkeeper but that’s the rules of the game.

“We did all we could to try to convince him to stay but it’s his decision to leave and we respect that.”

After enjoying an impressive start to last season, Turnbull never regained his place in the side following the 2-0 defeat at Chelsea on January 28.

Southgate added: “Hopefully he will look back fondly on his time with us and we wish him well. It’s something we are going to mull over and consider.

“I’ll probably make a decision over the next few weeks.

“Obviously we’ve got Brad and we have high hopes that Jason is going to progress to be a very good goalkeeper.

“We have to decide whether to bring in some experienced cover or whether Jason is ready to step up this season.

I’m not decided on it yet but it’s something we are going to discuss further over the next few weeks.”