Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka says he is still to decide if Jordan Rhodes will start against Leeds United next week, despite the club’s £9million signing coming off the bench to snatch a draw at MK Dons on Tuesday night.
Karanka insisted that Rhodes’ 93rd-minute header was not a guarantee that the striker would play from the outset at Elland Road when Leeds and Boro meet on Monday.
Boro returned to the top of the Championship after taking a point from MK Dons but the upper end of the division is growing congested with six clubs separated by seven points.
Leeds are effectively out of the running for promotion after one win from eight games, but the club have won their last three meetings with Boro at Elland Road and Steve Evans is looking to upset a side he called “the best in the league”.
Boro strengthened their hand in the January transfer window by paying an initial fee of around £9m to take Scotland international Rhodes from Blackburn Rovers. The forward, however, has been a substitute in his first two appearances as Karanka kept faith with players who have underpinned Boro’s promotion bid since August.
Evans travelled to watch Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in Milton Keynes as he began preparing for Monday’s clash. Asked if Rhodes would start against Leeds, Karanka said: “I have six days to think.
“I don’t know now because I have to analyse the game and analyse the opponent and it’s too early to say if he is going to play or not. Everybody who is coming here, all of them know they are coming to a really, really good changing room with a really good atmosphere and the foundations are respect for all the team.”
Boro won the first meeting between the clubs at The Riverside in September, earning a 3-0 win over a Leeds side missing injured top scorer Chris Wood.
Wood will be absent again on Monday night with Leeds nursing him through another hamstring injury.
The striker was ruled out for a fortnight last week and is unlikely to be available until the club’s FA Cup fifth-round tie at Watford at the earliest.