Why Stewart Downing is key to Middlesbrough’s chances of promotion

Why Stewart Downing is key to Middlesbrough’s chances of promotion

After a topsy-turvy campaign, Stewart Downing made a huge impact on his return to the Middlesbrough starting line-up in their recent 3-2 victory over Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road.

Prior to that triumph, Boro were on the ropes and were in danger of slipping down the Championship table but Downing helped to steady the ship as Aitor Karanka’s men picked up a valuable three points to keep their automatic promotion hopes alive.

In fact, results largely went Middlesbrough’s way that weekend and Karanka’s side now sit second in the Championship – one point ahead of third-placed Brighton & Hove Albion but with a game in hand over The Seagulls.

And if Boro take advantage of their game in hand, they will move level on points with Burnley at the top of the table. Who knows, they might be on the cusp of returning to the Premier League for the first time since 2009.

And although Downing and Karanka haven’t exactly seen eye-to-eye throughout the campaign, both men are equally as important in Middlesbrough’s bid for promotion. If nothing else, Downing remains the class act in what is a star-studded Boro side.

He has the ability to unlock opposing defences and his talent shines through whenever he’s in possession. Almost immediately, you can tell he’s played for England at international level.

Downing was actually part of England’s Euro 2012 squad that reached the quarter-finals of the competition but that was in his West Ham days.

Now, he won’t stand any chance of selection for the national team – which is perhaps a little harsh considering his performances this season. However, England have a strong group of players to choose from and Roy Hodgson will be quietly confident ahead of the summer’s tournament.

But having said that, Bookies.com’s tip and a nod to the team that could go on to win the competition, France, sent a timely reminder that, even with Downing in the side, England would find it tough to compete with Didier Deschamps’ men. After all, Downing may be a good player but he’s not quite in the same bracket as Anthony Martial, Antoine Griezmann or Paul Pogba.

But Downing CAN be Middlesbrough’s Martial, Griezmann or Pogba – if Karanka is willing to put their differences aside. Boro’s talisman was inspirational against QPR and as the business end of the season approaches, he needs to be central to Middlesbrough’s play.

With Downing in the side, Boro can reach the top flight and Karanka knows it. Only time will tell but, on current form, Boro are in with a shout of achieving their ultimate goal of automatic promotion... they just need to remain calm and focus on each game as it comes.

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