Middlesbrough boosted by return of duo

Middlesbrough's Daniel Ayala celebrates after the final whistle

Daniel Ayala and Bernardo Espinosa make comebacks from injury.

Middlesbrough defensive crisis in central defence looks set to ease with Daniel Ayala and Bernardo Espinosa making their first appearances of the season.

Neither key man Ayala or summer signing Espinosa have been able to feature in Boro's entire pre-season campaign.

Ayala has been struggling with an ankle injury, whilst Espinsoa - who arrived from Sporting Gijon on a Bosman free transfer - is overcoming a knee operation.

Daniel Ayala of Middlesbrough celebrates after scoring their first goalDaniel Ayala of Middlesbrough celebrates after scoring their first goal

But both players completed 45 minutes of Boro's Under-23 0-0 draw with Brighton & Hove Albion on Monday, and both could come into contention for a place in the first-team squad to face local rivals Sunderland on Sunday.

It is believed that Colombian Espinosa will not be rushed into action, but Ayala could very well be straight into contention.

In Saturday's opener against Stoke , full-back Antonio Barragan was picked ahead of Alex Baptiste played in central defence alongside Ben Gibson and acquitted himself very well - but boss Aitor Karanka will be keen to bring in Ayala - who has been a stalwart in his time with the club.

Picture Supplied by Action ImagesPicture Supplied by Action Images

Fresh from signing a new long-term deal Ayala will be desperate to feature on Wearside and will now give Karanka an extra option, providing their is no adverse reaction in the coming days.

Boro have been looking for another centre-half having seen a deal for Borussia Dortmund's Neven Subotic collapse, they have also failed to agree deals for Hull City's Harry Maguire - who they still have an interest in - and also James Chester, who has since joined Aston Villa.

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