This was the season that would see the return of the prodigal son Stewart Downing to his hometown club and fire them back to the lucrative land of the Premier League.
That was the script anyway, but the former England winger-who many regarded as the best number ten in the division- has been a marked man during many of Boro’s matches this season, who have taken the view, stop Downing and you stop Boro. Infact Downing found himself warming the bench for Boro’s crunch clash with Wolves. Step forward Gaston Ramirez, A Uruguay International with premier league class whose loan arrival remarkably slipped under the radar whilst the on-off transfer saga of Jordan Rhodes was played out.
It is of course early days to tout Ramirez as our main man and some fans will point to the fact that Diego Fabbrini had a good start on Teeside but Ramirez displayed on a very cold Friday evening in the North East that he also has a real physical presence and great work ethic to track back and fight for his team. However it is his real craft and guile around the area and his end product that is proving the difference for Boro.
Fabbrini was also brought in by Karanka to knit the midfield and attack but after a bright start the clever pivots and pirouettes weren’t quite enough to win AK over (Though I did enjoy the Ronaldinho style flip flap against Sheff Wed). He just didn’t have the desired impact and lacked punch and towards the end of his spell was used as a substitute to break up play and win free kicks against tiring opposition.
Ramirez gave a masterclass on Friday on how to best play in ‘the hole’, pulling the strings and creating chances for wide players Adomah and Stuani and cleverly slipping disguised balls through for Rhodes. Oh he scored a diving header and notched a second caressing the ball beautifully with his instep past the hapless Wolves keeper. Not bad for someone with a ‘lazy’ tag from previous teams.
Karanka has done his work the right way, making his team difficult to beat and for the second season running Boro have the best defensive record in the league, but now that he seems to have found a match winner that can help Boro put teams to the sword he may just be checking the Uruguayan’s contract status in the summer.