Daniel Ayala is unlikely to feature in Rovers’ final five fixtures as his injury-hit season looks set to end in frustration.

Ayala has been back on the training pitches in recent weeks, but is yet to join in with the squad as they prepare for tomorrow’s game with Derby County.

The Spaniard, signed on a three-year deal last summer, hasn’t featured since limping out of the December defeat at Huddersfield Town, and is unlikely to build on that before the season is out.

Taylor Harwood-Bellis, brought in as one of two January additions, has slotted in well alongside Darragh Lenihan, but Mowbray admits being without the experienced Ayala has been a blow.

He said: “We’re missing our main centre half for the season who’s won promotion twice.

“You hope someone else can step up when your best players aren’t playing.

“(Taylor) is doing really well but the best players make a difference when they’re playing.”

Gaps will open up in the heart of the Rovers defence once this season is over, with Harwood-Bellis and Jarrad Branthwaite set to return to their parent clubs.

With Derrick Williams having moved on, joining LA Galaxy earlier this year, and Scott Wharton unlikely to be fit for the start of next season, there will be a chance for the 30-year-old Spaniard to cement his place in the side.

That will hopefully come after a strong pre-season, having missed out last summer as his future remained up in the air following his decision to leave Middlesbrough in June, and not signing for Rovers until mid-September.

“It’s unlikely he’s going to get an opportunity to play in the first team, but we’ll wait and see,” the manager added.

"I think the bigger picture for Daniel is to have a really, really strong pre-season, build up the robustness to get used to the intensity of the training at this football club and make sure he’s going to be available for a lot of games next season.”