MIDDLESBROUGH boss Tony Mowbray will scour the loan market for a new goalkeeper after losing first-choice stopper Jason Steele to injury.
Steele was forced off five minutes before the interval in Saturday’s 5-2 defeat at Reading with a muscle injury to his side.
Early indications are that the England U21 stopper could be out for some time and with the experienced Danny Coyne also on the treatment table, Mowbray had to turn to 17-year-old Connor Ripley at the Madjeski Stadium.
But Mowbray, pictured, feels it would be unfair to keep Ripley, the son of former Boro winger Stuart Ripley, in the side and will try to sign a keeper on an emergency loan before tomorrow’s Riverside clash with Derby County.
“We’ll have to assess the injury to Jason,” said Mowbray.
“It’s probably a muscle tear in his side. He’ll have a scan to see the extent of the damage but he’s in a lot of pain and discomfort.
“Connor is a confident boy. He’s got all the attributes and I’m sure he’s going to be a very good goalkeeper over the next few years and beyond. But in an ideal world, we don’t want to get him on the pitch yet.”
Hal Robson-Kanu put the Royals in front in the 14th minute before Leroy Lita pulled Boro level.
Ian Harte and Shane Long both netted braces to secure Reading’s well-earned victory, although Lita made the scoreline look a bit more respectable for his side with a 72nd-minute penalty.
Mowbray said: “Right from early on we were under pressure. In the first five minutes we conceded half a dozen corners and it never got much better.
“Reading have a lot of intensity in their play and their front two work really hard.
“I have been in charge for 19 or 20 games but it’s the first time we have found a performance like that. Even if we have had bad results we have always been in matches.
“This was the first time we have been outfought and outplayed.
“It’s not a day for excuses. We must put it behind us straight away. I would never have thought today that we could find that level of performance after the way we played at Nottingham Forest.”
The hosts were looking to build on their FA Cup victory over Everton in midweek and their bright start was rewarded when Robson-Kanu, who replaced Jobi McAnuff in the only change to the Royals starting line-up, broke the deadlock in the 14th minute.
Kebe’s early right-wing cross was met by an unmarked Robson-Kanu at the far post and the winger powered a downward header past Steele.
If the Boro goalkeeper was at fault for the goal, he made up for it moments later to keep the deficit to just one goal after he somehow managed to tip Noel Hunt’s close-range volley round the post.
It proved to be a crucial save as, against the run of play, former Reading striker Lita hauled Middlesbrough level in the 29th minute.
The ball was cleared to Andrew Taylor on the edge of the area and, although Alex McCarthy did well to keep out the initial effort, ex-Reading hitman Lita followed up to drill home.
Their joy was short-lived, though, as after Nicky Bailey had made a rash challenge on Long, Ian Harte curled a magnificent 25-yard free-kick past Steele six minutes later.
It was no less than Brian McDermott’s men deserved but their opponents had clearly not learned their lesson when Taylor fouled Brynjar Gunnarsson on the right three minute after the interval.
Harte’s whipped free-kick eluded everyone in the area before sailing past Ripley and into the net at the far post.
Boro were reeling and Long looked to have ended the game as a contest in the 54th minute when he headed home from the impressive Harte’s deep cross on the left.
Kebe spurned a glorious chance when he shot wide after rounding Steele but Long showed the midfielder how it was done when he latched on to Jay Tabb’s through-ball before racing through on goal and striking past an uncertain Ripley in the 68th minute.
Lita got his second of the afternoon from the penalty spot after Mills had fouled the striker in the area three minutes later, but it was too little too late.