MICHAEL Carrick says his Middlesbrough focus is on the players who are available for the visit of Ipswich Town rather than those missing, with the head coach reluctant to go in to specifics on individuals ahead of Saturday’s game but admitting there’s still a “long list” of absentees.
Paddy McNair suffered a back spasm and was forced off in the first half of last weekend’s defeat to Leeds United, with the Northern Ireland international a major doubt after Carrick admitted the problem has taken a “while to settle”.
The same can also be said of Dael Fry and Hayden Hackney, who both have muscle injuries, with Carrick having admitted last week that neither were particularly close to getting the green light to play at Elland Road.
Anfernee Dijksteel and Isaiah Jones are suspended, Tommy Smith, Darragh Lenihan and Lewis O’Brien are long-term absentees and Marcus Forss and Riley McGree have both been missing since October.
It means Carrick could be forced into a major reshuffle for the visit of high-flying Ipswich.
“I think we’re better off talking about who is fit and available because we are down on the numbers,” said Carrick.
“Those that are available and are playing are doing well. We’ve got a long list of players not available for various reasons, but that’s not my focus.
“It’s more right now about getting the boys who are fit ready for the game on Saturday. Boys get injuries and suspensions and it’s easy to talk about that, but it’s ultimately about the game and preparing for that.
“It’s a great challenge for us. Certain players who hadn’t played so much are now in the team and having an impact, which is great.
“These things always provide opportunities and I’m really looking forward to this game, and the spell of games, to seeing what we’re capable of doing. The boys are in good spirits and are playing well. We felt a disappointment about last week, but we’re looking forward to what we can do next.”
Asked specifically on McNair, Carrick said: “We’ll have to wait and see. He had a back spasm and it’s taken a while to settle. Whether it settles in time or not, we’ll have to wait and see. It is what it is and we’ll deal with it.”
With Dijksteel suspended and Smith injured, Carrick doesn’t have a recognised senior right-back fit, and while Rav van den Berg has played there in the past, the Dutchman and Matt Clarke will be the only available central defenders if Fry and McNair are ruled out.
Jonny Howson has experience of playing at both right-back and centre-half, but with Hackney potentially missing, moving the captain leaves Carrick with a decision to make in midfield. Matt Crooks has obviously played plenty of football for Boro in central midfield, but that would then leave a vacancy further forward in the attack.
Clarke came off the bench against Leeds last week having made his return to action after a year out in the final stages of the home win over Preston.
The defender hasn’t started a game since October 1, last year, but Carrick has no worries about putting the 27-year-old in from the off.
He said: “I think Clarkey has been ready for a good number of weeks.
“It’s just that opportunity. I’ve said it a lot, sometimes you’re in the squad and it feels like your opportunity is a long way off, you can’t see your next game because there are two or three players ahead of you. But quite quickly it can change. Clarkey is ready.
“He showed that in terms of his performance last week. It was great to get him on the pitch before that and I said then that he was a big part of the squad and he was ready to play and that doesn’t change now.”