Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Boro dig their heels over Downing

The Stewart Downing saga rumbles on. Boro reiterated their vehement intention not to sell any senior players this month in a terse statement this morning. Reports this morning claimed Spurs had upped their offer to £14.5 million but chief executive Keith Lamb denied the offer had even been made. Suffice to say, it seems Downing has underestimated the determination of the club to keep the squad together until the end of the season or at least drive the price up.

With the growing realisation that the transfer is unlikely to happen this week, attention has turned to Downing's potential involvement in Saturday's vital derby match against Sunderland. Captain Emmanuel Pogatetz has already pleaded with fans not to turn against the winger. This seems somewhat optimistic. While many fans seem to sympathise with his frustrations, at least as many have been angered by the nature and timing of his request. The small minority who have vocally criticised Downing throughout his Boro career have been given license to step up the vendetta.

Gareth Southgate has a difficult decision to make as to whether to involve Downing at all. The fear will inevitably be that the benefits of having his talents available on the pitch will be outweighed by a negative response in the stands. With no league win since early November, the team simply can't afford to have the crowd's ire focussed on one of their own, particularly considering the strained atmosphere that pervades most fixtures at the Riverside.

January always promised to be a challenging month and the first seven days have been hard going for the club and its supporters. The fear remains that things could get much worse.

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