Middlesbrough boss Tony Pulis has defended striker Jordan Hugill - and has been encouraged by the 'good signs' shown by the loanee.
Hugill, a reported target for Leeds United in the summer, made the move to the Riverside Stadium from West Ham United having found game time at the London Stadium limited.
And Pulis feels that those limited opportunities in the top flight have resulted in the striker lacking in match sharpness - while he is also bidding to up his fitness after missing spells of pre-season.
The loanee has netted just once since joining his boyhood club - in the Carabao Cup win over Rochdale - but his manager can see notable improvements.
Indeed, Pulis believes that Hugill's performance in the win over Crystal Palace was his best so far and has backed him to keep on delivering the goods.
"I thought Hugill was very good the other night, probably the best he’s played since he came here,” he told BBC Tees.
“The big thing with Jordan that people have to recognise is he was signed by West Ham (in January) and never really played a game from that point onwards so he missed the second half of the season, not playing any games and he got injured in pre-season so he didn’t have a pre-season.
“So the kid’s had half a season not playing because he wasn’t selected and then he’s missed the full pre-season because he’s injured so he’s never, ever been as fit as he was at Preston when he was scoring goals.
"So people have to be a little bit careful and understand the situation Jordan’s in.
“One thing I will say is he gives everything every game and on Wednesday, first half I thought he showed signs of being better than what he’s been.
"He will be the first one to say he hasn’t set the house on fire but there were good signs on Wednesday.
“So he’s a little bit behind and it’s taking him time to get up to the level. I still don’t think he’s there, but on Wednesday I thought he showed signs.”
The striker could be handed a league start when Middlesbrough travel to Stoke City in the Championship this evening.
Defender Sam McQueen will definitely miss out for Boro, while a sickness bug could see several other players sidelined.