Downing has plenty still to offer Middlesbrough

Stewart Downing celebrates his winning goal. Picture by Tom CollinsStewart Downing celebrates his winning goal. Picture by Tom Collins
Stewart Downing celebrates his winning goal. Picture by Tom Collins
Fabio is convinced Stewart Downing still has a contribution to make at Middlesbrough.

The former Manchester United full-back has played both with and against the 32-year-old midfielder and has seen what he has to offer at close hand.

Downing’s future on Teesside looked to be in doubt earlier this month amid speculation that he could be sent out on loan, but his stunning winner and all-round performance in Saturday’s FA Cup fourth round victory over League Two Accrington demonstrated just what he can still do.

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Fabio said: “He is very important to the team, he is very experienced. I think I played against him eight years ago, so he’s so experienced and, of course, important for the team.

“He’ll be needed, not just on the pitch but in the dressing room and on the training ground, so he’s a very important and experienced player for us.”

When Fabio first came across Downing, he was an out-and-out winger, but the 26-year-old Brazilian has seen his game change during the intervening years with then West Ham boss Sam Allardyce playing him in a central role to great effect.

He said: “He’s 32 so he will have lost a little bit of pace, but he compensates with the other skills he has and he’s still a great player.

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“He is intelligent, you know? He is very good with the ball and, like he showed today, he strikes the ball very well. He’s a fantastic player.”

Downing was handed a first start since New Year’s Eve at the weekend and took full advantage with head coach Aitor Karanka later insisting he will come into considerations for Premier League games, the next of which comes against West Brom at the Riverside tomorrow evening.

Boro laboured for long periods to find a way past John Coleman’s defensive unit and when they found it, it came from Downing, whose 69th-minute piledriver was a timely reminder of his enduring quality.

Stanley midfielder Sean McConville headed inches wide as time ran down as the visitors pushed for a money-spinning replay, but Downing’s strike sent home the locals among a crowd of 24,040 happy.

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Karanka, meanwhile, promised there is much more to come from new signings Patrick Bamford and Rudy Gestede.

Asked about their respective contributions against Accrington, he replied: “Very good, both of them.

“It’s been good for both of them because it’s important for them to have minutes. Patrick, for example, I’m sure that he’s a really good player, but he needs games because the Patrick Bamford of three years ago and two years go would have scored two or three goals.

“He needs to be more confident. He knows how much I trust him, and Rudy the same. He’s been with us for two weeks, three weeks, and he is improving, he is fighting a lot, so I am really, really pleased with both of them.”

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Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos, Friend (Fry 9), Bernardo, Gibson, Da Silva, Fischer (Traore 61), Clayton, Leadbitter, Downing, Bamford (Stuani 70), Gestede. Subs Not Used: Negredo, de Roon, Valdes, Forshaw. Booked: Leadbitter, Clayton, Downing, Gibson. Goals: Downing 69.

Accrington Stanley: Rodak, Rodgers, Hughes, Beckles (Gornell 90), Donacien, Davies (Clark 74), Clare, Conneely, Boco (McCartan 74), Kee, McConville. Subs Not Used: Hewitt, Chapman, Edwards, Shaw. Booked: Conneely, Clare, Rodgers.

Att: 24,040 Ref: Anthony Taylor