Daniel Ayala will return to training on Thursday as he closes in on a return to first-team action.

The Spaniard has played just three times since joining the club as a free agent and missed the last month with a groin problem that forced him off the in the 3-1 defeat at Watford.

His injury allowed Derrick Williams a route back into the side, only for the Irishman to suffer a quadricep injury in the 0-0 draw at Middlesbrough.

Ayala is closer to resuming full training than Williams, but neither will be back for tomorrow’s trip to Preston North End.

“Not far away, him and Derrick have been on the grass with the physio department,” manager Tony Mowbray said.

“Thursday will be the first training day back for Daniel, Derrick might be a little further behind, but not far away.”

Scott Wharton will therefore start for a third successive match alongside Darragh Lenihan in the heart of the back four, where there will need to be a change with Joe Rankin-Costello out injured.

Bradley Johnson will be absent in midfield after picking up his fifth booking of the season at Luton, and Mowbray added: “Bradley is suspended, but he’s got a bit of tightness in his lower back anyway.

“Joe Rankin-Costello, we’re still waiting for the scan to come back but obviously he’s not fit and available. We’ll wait and see how long that is going to be with how serious it is.

“Everyone has injuries at this stage of the season we’re having and we’ll be ready and looking forward to this next challenge.”

Johnson’s place is likely to be taking by Lewis Holtby who is back fit after missing the last two matches through illness.

“He trained today and looked alright and he’s a welcome addition back to the group,” Mowbray said.

Rovers are still waiting to learn more about the injury to Rankin-Costello, the third time he’s suffered a hamstring strain since June.

Mowbray says it is something the club must look to address given the repetitive nature of the injury for the 21-year-old Academy graduate who has established himself as a key member of the squad.

“It’s a concern, we’re trying to get to the bottom of it as a football club, the medical department, sports science department, the doctor, the coaching staff, we’re having conversations and we need to make sure we’re doing the right thing for our players, especially with the intensity we’re looking for and the number of games,” the manager added.

“We need robust footballers as well as technical footballers.

“Joe is a bit concerning because it’s not the first hamstring injury he’s had and we need to try and resolve that between us and use our knowledge and experience to make sure we’re doing the right things for the lad to make sure he doesn’t keep breaking down.

“I think injuries can come around through fatigue and the conversations we’re having are around the strength of that hamstring.

“I think it’s a fatigue thing, keep pushing it all the time and your hamstring can go in the third or fourth game on the bounce, particularly young ones, and that’s something we’re having discussions about, how we can resolve the Joe Rankin-Costello hamstring situation so we can get him to a point where he can play game after game after game without being overly concerned.”