Middlesbrough’s Richie Smallwood has play-off Wembley dream

Middlesbrough's Richie Smallwood
Middlesbrough's Richie Smallwood

FOR box-to-box midfielder Richie Smallwood the perfect way to cap off a hugely successful loan spell would be victory at the home of English football and with it the taste of promotion.

And the industrious engine-room battler would love nothing more than being involved in another promotion chase next season - back with his hometown club Middlesbrough.

Boro boss Aitor Karanka has given his young players the vital opportunity of grasping first-team football by sending a handful out on loan spells since Christmas.

But the decision to allow Smallwood to join Rotherham United raised a few eyebrows on Teesside given the 23-year-old had been a regular in Karanka’s early team selections.

Boro’s loss has been Rotherham’s gain as Smallwood’s arrival coincided with the Millers going on a 14 game unbeaten run which cemented their place in the play-offs well-ahead of this afternoon’s trip to Swindon Town.

And despite admitting his initial disappointment when he was told he would be allowed out on loan, the energetic midfielder has told SportMail he’s loved his spell at the New York Stadium.

“It’s been really good, I’ve enjoyed every second of it,” said Smallwood.

“Obviously when you’re allowed out on loan you have a few things going through your mind, especially when you have played for one club and it’s your hometown club.

“But to be honest when you join a new club even if it’s just for a loan spell you have a job to do there and you have to get your head around it.”

Any fears Smallwood had for his immediate future at Boro were eased recently when he penned a one-year extension to his contract.

And Karanka has already demonstrated his willingness to give young players a chance to earn a starting spot at the Riverside on the back of impressing while out on loan.

Adam Reach was named in the Boro 11 which relegated Barnsley last weekend while Luke Williams has also had plenty of game-time since he was called back from his spell at Hartlepool United.

Smallwood will serve the second of a three-game ban today after seeing red during Rotherham’s 1-0 home win against Port Vale.

Unfortunately he’ll miss the first leg of the play-offs when the Yorkshire side will come up against either in-form Preston or stuttering Leyton Orient.

But he’ll be raring to go for the return leg and insists Rotherham have no-one to fear in the crunch play-off ties.

“I’ve got nothing else on my mind at the moment other than helping Rotherham to achieve our goal,” he said.

“It’s a massive thing for all of us at the club.

“Obviously they’re all good teams up there around us but we’ve beat them all apart from Preston this season.

“The dream is to get to Wembley and achieve promotion. As a player it doesn’t get much bigger than winning at Wembley.”

And back at Boro, the chase to achieve the dream of returning to the game’s elite will start again next season.

“Promotion is the aim at the start of every season,” said Smallwood.

“So that will be the goal.

“It’s the manager’s first transfer window so it’s a chance for him to put his mark on the squad.

“The club wants to get back into the Premier League, we all do.”