Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka will be hoping full-back George Friend can return to full fitness before his side welcome fellow promotion hopefuls Brighton & Hove Albion to the Riverside on Saturday.
Friend has been absent since sustaining a hamstring injury against newly-promoted Burnley almost three weeks ago, and the full-back did not feature in Boro’s 2-2 draw at Birmingham City last Friday.
But he has not been ruled out of contention for the match at the weekend.
The 28 year old defender has already made 44 appearances in all competitions for Boro this season, and he has been one of the first names on the team-sheet since arriving from Doncaster in 2012.
A popular figure among the Boro fans, Friend has flourished on Teesside, becoming an integral part of the Championship’s best defence last season as well as proving to be more than adept going forward.
The Middlesbrough man has key experience of the big occasion, having played in Boro's disheartening defeat to Norwich City in last season's playoff final.
Friend will no doubt be needed for the visit of Brighton, who will be buoyed by the form of Frenchman Anthony Knockaert
Knockaert, Friend’s would-be opposite number, was excellent in his side’s frustrating score draw with Derby, showing excellent feet and awareness throughout the game, at the heart of everything Brighton were able to throw at the visitors.
Despite dropping points, Knockaert will be hoping to again cause problems for Boro in their winner-takes-all clash for promotion, a match of titanic proportions.
Both Middlesbrough and Brighton slipped up last weekend.
Brighton missed the chance to seize the initiative heading into Sunday’s do-or-die clash, falling behind to substitute Andreas Weimann’s opener, but despite going down to ten men, the home side snatched a point at the death when Wilson squeezed home after the Rams failed to clear a Knockaert corner.
Karanka’s side were held to a score draw at St Andrews in controversial circumstances on Friday night, when Daniel Ayala’s goal was chalked off for offside by assistant referee Tom Nield
With the winner of Saturday’s clash expected to net over £100 million for promotion to the top flight, the Middlesbrough manager has since called for a ‘top official’ for the game, and the FA have duly appointed experienced premier league referee Mike Dean to officiate proceedings.
Middlesbrough only need a point on Sunday to reclaim Premier League status, while it is all or nothing for Brighton, who must take home all of the spoils if they are to secure automatic promotion and avoid the playoffs.