Middlesbrough are facing something of a defensive crisis, with boss Tony Pulis confirming that three of his first-choice defenders are out for the rest of the season.

Boro youngster Dael Fry has joined Daniel Ayala and George Friend on the sidelines, with none of the trio expected to play a role in the Teesside outfit’s hopes of finishing in the Championship top six.

Middlesbrough face Pulis’ former club Stoke City at the Riverside Stadium on Friday, but the Boro manager has a selection headache on his hands.

“Dael has torn his hamstring and it’s a bad one,” the Daily Star confirm the Middlesbrough boss as saying.

“It will be 12 weeks so he won’t play this season and I don’t think he’ll be going away with England (under-21s).

“It’s a massive blow again because he’s been growing in confidence and played in all sorts of positions.

“We’ve been delighted with his progress and I thought he was our best player (against Hull) last week.

“We weren’t even at full tilt in training when it happened. I can’t believe we have lost three key defenders in just over a week. It’s really disappointing.

“Now we need that spirit of togetherness to get us through the last few games.”

Middlesbrough are currently in seventh place in the Championship standings with four games of the second tier remaining.

The Boro fans will be desperate for the club to finish in the top six, with the north east outfit keen to bounce back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

Stoke do not have much left to play for, but BBC Sport confirm that defender Tom Edwards will be available after his suspension was served.

Middlesbrough are a point behind Bristol City but also have Derby County and Hull City breathing down their necks in a race to finish in the top six.

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