Aitor Karanka has revealed that Stewart Downing will be fit for Middlesbrough's Capital One Cup fourth round tie against Manchester United on 28 October, but Adam Forshaw and Albert Adomah are both set to miss out. Striker Christian Stuani has already been ruled out of the trip to Old Trafford and is now expected to miss up to five weeks as a result of an injury sustained while on international duty with Uruguay.
Academy graduate Downing raised eyebrows this summer when he chose to drop a division and return to his first club on a four-year deal, despite impressing in the Premier League for West Ham in 2014/15. The former England international winger has made 15 appearances in all competitions to date during his second spell at the Riverside, although he was dropped to the substitutes bench for the recent 3-1 Championship victory at Wolves after taking a hefty blow to the ribs against Cardiff four days earlier.
Downing still played an important role at Molineux, however, replacing Chelsea loanee Tomas Kalas midway through the second half before supplying a 90th-minute free-kick that completed the promotion contenders' impressive comeback, which stopped a run of three matches without a win. Although the league is obviously a major priority for Middlesbrough this term, Karanka confirmed that the influential 31-year-old is available for cup duty if required.
"Yes," the Spaniard replied at his pre-match press conference when asked if the player was fine to feature. "He was training yesterday and I think he is ready."
While Downing will be available for selection for 'Boro's first meeting with Manchester United since they were relegated from the top-flight after a 10-year stay in May 2009, Forshaw and Adomah both remain extremely doubtful with back and ankle problems respectively. Responding to queries over the duo's availability, Karanka twice added: "I don't think so."
The ongoing absence of Stuani is clearly a sore point for the Middlesbrough boss, meanwhile. The prolific ex-Espanyol forward has scored seven goals in English football since a £2.8m ($4.2m) switch was completed in August, although he has missed each of his club's last three games after suffering muscle tears in his groin and hamstring during World Cup qualifiers against Bolivia and Colombia. In addition to missing the upcoming cup tie, an angry Karanka confirmed that the Uruguayan is facing at least one more month on the sidelines.
"I would like to have him with us tomorrow, but Stuani arrived with two tears after the games with his national team," he explained, as reported by the Evening Gazette. "For that reason I want to explain. I don't want to gamble with him, he's injured, he came back with two tears and I showed my disappointment with his national team.
"But now I'm disappointed with them again as they have called him for the next games despite having two tears. I can't understand that. Tomorrow against Man United, Stuani for sure won't play. For Charlton he won't be there, for Rotherham he won't be there, for Hull I don't think he'll be there. With two tears, without a miracle, it will be difficult to recover. I'd like to have him back tomorrow but two tears is at least four or five weeks."
Bruno Zuculini is eligible to play for Middlesbrough after joining on a one-month loan deal from Manchester City earlier this week as cover for Forshaw, although Karanka expressed the need to exercise caution with a player who has not played much first-team football in his short senior career to date.