Injury ends season prematurely for Boro's Mendieta
Middlesbrough were tonight rocked by the news that Spanish midfielder Gazika Mendieta will miss the rest of the season after breaking a bone in his foot in training.
The 32-year-old, an unused substitute in yesterday's 1-0 Barclays Premiership win at Manchester City, suffered a fractured metatarsal - the same injury which has sidelined England striker Michael Owen since December - today three days ahead of the club's vital UEFA Cup quarter-final, second leg clash with Basle.
Mendieta will need an operation to repair the damage and is expected to be out of action for 12 weeks, which will take him well into the closed-season break.
The injury will come as a massive blow to manager Steve McClaren, who lost defender Emanuel Pogatetz for the rest of the campaign after he suffered two facial fractures in Switzerland on Thursday night.
But Mendieta's absence will rob his side of vital experience and quality as Boro attempt to overturn a 2-0 first leg deficit to book their place in the semi-finals.
In addition, they face an FA Cup quarter-final replay against Charlton later this month with a place in next season's UEFA Cup almost certainly awaiting the winners of a semi-final clash with West Ham - with Chelsea and Liverpool on course top qualify for Europe via the league.
Ironically, the injury came just when Boro's midfield had returned to full complement after George Boateng and Lee Cattermole were forced to sit out the Basle clash through suspension.
It will be particularly disappointing for Mendieta, who missed most of last season after undergoing surgery to repair damaged knee ligaments.
He spent months on the comeback trail in Spain, and although it took him time to find his feet once again after his return to action, he remains a key member of McClaren's strongest 11.
The Bilbao-born player joined the club on an initial season-long loan deal in August 2003, and was a member of the side which lifted the Carling Cup in the following February.
His loan move became a permanent four-year switch during the following summer as a man who cost Lazio £28.9million when he joined from Valencia was allowed to leave for free.