Southgate resists temptation to gamble on Woodgate

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The Independent Football

The Middlesbrough manager, Gareth Southgate, will not take risks with the fitness of his defender Jonathan Woodgate, who is trying to win back his place in the England team.

Southgate, who played alongside the now 26-year-old when he made his senior international debut as a teenager, knows just how keen he is to return to the big stage. However, the Boro manager will rest his loan signing from Real Madrid for tonight's Carling Cup second-round tie with Notts County as he restricts him to just one game a week.

Southgate said yesterday: "I will not play him tomorrow. At the moment, it is working quite well if he can have one game a week. We can give him a full recovery between matches and we can build him up in the right way for the next game. That is the concern in terms of the international set-up.

"We feel there is no question that he could go in there and play at that level, [but] it is just making sure his fitness and his progression are at the right rate. He has only had two 90-minute matches so, at the moment, I do not think it is the right thing to be speaking about. We just want to monitor him very closely."

Woodgate has received rave reviews for his first performances, and was handed the captain's armband in the absence of George Boateng at the weekend. But while he will rest one of his key men, Southgate knows the importance of the Carling Cup to his club - he was the man who lifted the trophy in 2004 to give the Teessiders their first major honour.

Having also won the competition with his former club Aston Villa, he is aware of the prize at the end of the road, but knows equally how far there is to go. He said: "It is a trophy I have won twice, so it has great memories for me. But the early rounds are about getting through. Obviously, I want to try to entertain the people who come, but the bottom line is we want to get through this tie, and that will set up a run.

"Really the competition, in terms of prestige, only starts at the semi-finals, and it is a long way to get to that. But it is well worth it if you can get there. The meaning of it to this club is possibly bigger than any other because of the wait we had to win our first trophy.

"That will always have a special place in the heart of anybody connected with Middlesbrough."

Southgate will make changes after successive away draws at Arsenal and Bolton, He said: "We will still have a very experienced and very strong side out."

The defender Robert Huth is set for his senior debut following his £6m move from Chelsea while the striker Mark Viduka is available, having had a knee problem at the weekend.