MIDDLESBROUGH return to Championship action at home to Blackpool tomorrow – but Seb Hines will have to wait for his chance despite the backing of manager Tony Mowbray.
The talented defender has now overcome an ankle problem and is knocking on the first-team door.
But stood between Hines and a starting jersey are the defenders who have helped Boro to record an impressive eight clean sheets in their 16 league outings so far this season.
Matthew Bates, Rhys Williams, Stephen McManus and Tony McMahon have all occupied one of the centre-back berths at some juncture and, with Boro currently third in the table, it appears they’ve been doing something right.
Another doubt is the long-term fitness of the 23-year-old who has been beset by injury problems over the past 12 months.
But boss Mowbray believes Hines has what it takes to break into his senior side.
“I’m pretty sure his time will come,” said the Boro chief.
“The team is doing pretty well defensively at the moment so he has to wait for the right moment to try and cement a place in the team.
“Seb needs to get fit enough to get a run of games in the team and cement a starting place.”
Hines made a goal-scoring debut for Boro aged just 18 in an FA Cup tie against Hull in January, 2007.
However, going into last season he had made just four league appearances for the Teessiders.
The arrival of Mowbray, however, eventually saw Hines given his chance and he enjoyed 13 starts in 14 games before breaking his jaw at Ipswich.
Mowbray said: “Seb undoubtedly has qualities: His athleticism, his size.
“I think his strength is his defending, bottom line. His athleticism allows him to travel with the ball into midfield at times.
“I don’t think he’s 100 per cent comfortable in the middle with people all around him.”
A win for Boro over Blackpool tomorrow could take them second in the Championship although the Seasiders are just five points behind in fifth spot.