Neil Warnock may be ready to risk three of his walking wounded tonight against Preston North End as he bid to keep Middlesbrough’s outside play-off hopes alive.
Former Preston man Darnell Fisher, striker Ashley Fletcher and lively wideman Marcus Tavernier have all been back in training and are rated touch-and-go.
But with the stakes so high Warnock will make a late assessment and may be tempted to throw one or more into action at the Riverside tonight.
Boro drifted from the top six through a rocky spell in February but two wins out of the last three including a rousing 3-0 win over Stoke at the weekend have left the season with a faint promotion pulse.
They are eight points adrift of Barnsley in sixth place and unless they keep on clocking up victories the yawning gap will become unbridgeable.
“Is it a must win game? Yes, it is. They all are at this stage,” said an upbeat Warnock. “We said that before Stoke that we need to keep winning and we did.
“So we will keep going, keep pushing and they are all must win until we lose a few and it is beyond us.
“And to be honest, I think all the games are winnable. I look around this squad and I know that we have a real chance going into every game.
“There’s no question these lads will compete. We just need to more consistent and we need to be better at not conceding stupid goals.”
Warnock has warned that although Preston have drifted into lower mid-table they remain a tricky test for his team. North End won the reverse fixture 3-0 in December.
“They are a good, strong team,” said Warnock. “Physically they were in charge of the game up there so we know we have to match that challenge.
“Alex Neil has done well there. Preston have one of the smallest wage bills in the league but he has always had them up near the play-offs. He knows what it is about.
“So it will be difficult. We haven’t to go gung-ho out of the traps and concede. We have to be patient, we have to play the way I know we can and we have to enjoy it.”
Of his trio of walking wounded, Fisher looks the most likely to start. He has been struggling with an Achilles injury but has been on the bench in recent weeks as Warnock nurses him.
But right-back Anfernee Dijksteel has been ruled out for the season and Djed Spence picked up a knock in the Stoke clash so Fisher could return against his former side.
“He’s done really well since joining and he hasn’t put a foot wrong,” said Warnock. “He’s had a nasty Achilles tendon problem. I didn’t want to rush him back and then lose him.”
Both Tavernier and Fletcher are also nearing a return. They have been in training and both look set to be included in the squad at least.
“Hopefully, if not Preston then Saturday they could be back, Millwall. I’m expecting them both to play before the international break.”
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