Middlesbrough boss Tony Pulis facing defensive nightmare ahead of Blackburn Rovers test
Tony Pulis will be forced into a defensive reshuffle for Middlesbrough’s trip to Blackburn Rovers on Sunday lunchtime.
Boro are without first choice central defenders Daniel Ayala and Aden Flint for the Championship clash against Tony Mowbray’s Rovers.
Ayala was sent off in the second half of Wednesday night’s defeat at Sheffield United and will serve a one-match ban.
The pair are a key part of Pulis’ favoured 5-4-1 system, but with those two missing he will be forced into a reshuffle with a new-look defence lining up at Ewood Park.
Pulis does have other options to call upon but it may mean the Boro boss moving away from his preferred back five.
One option is to play Ryan Shotton, Dael Fry and George Friend as a back three and recall Paddy McNair to right wing-back.
Options for left-wing back include Marcus Tavernier, Rajiv van La Parra and Stewart Downing.
Young defender Nathan Wood is another option for Pulis, who admits Boro are a “little bit short” defensively.
Boro, who face Rovers at 1pm on Sunday, dropped to sixth following the loss against the Blades.
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Reflecting on the defeat to Sheffield United, Pulis said: “The game was an even game until Dani got set-off, I think we could have done a lot better going forward if Dani had stayed on but you give credit to Sheffield United in the second half.
“We lost Flint and they played more direct, they got the crowd up, the ball went in the corners a few times and then you need strong officials.
“The disappointing thing is the goal in respect of the two incidents leading up to it and I think if you watch it back it’s definitely a foul on Dael Fry.
“Aden will be three or four weeks, it’s his hamstring.
“Well we lost Danny Batth during the window and then losing those two leaves us a little bit short.”
Boro occupy the final play-off spot in the Championship, level on 51 points with seventh-placed Derby County, with the Rams breathing down their necks.
Boro remain nine points off the top two automatic promotion slots and they have also played a game less, with the play-offs providing the most realistic option for Boro to win promotion this season.
Sunday’s opponents Rovers are 14th in the Championship following three straight defeats. They are a very comfortable 15 points clear of the drop zone.