Stewart Downing not giving up hope on Middlesbrough survival

09 April 2017

Stewart Downing is refusing to give up hope that home-town club Middlesbrough can grasp a Premier League lifeline and drag themselves out of the relegation mire.

Saturday's 0-0 draw with Burnley at the Riverside Stadium left the Teessiders six points adrift of safety with seven games remaining, the next of them against Arsenal and Manchester City, Chelsea, Southampton and Liverpool awaiting them in their final four fixtures.

The picture looks bleak for promoted Boro, who have won only four of their 31 league games to date, but 32-year-old Downing is convinced they can still escape the drop.

He told BBC Tees: "Yes, 100 per cent, 100 per cent. Other teams are still losing, we get a point - I know we're a point closer and we could have done with three, but there's a long way to go yet, a lot of twists and turns.

"We have got big teams to come here, but do they fancy coming here? Well, we'll soon find out. We generally play well against the top teams, so I'm looking forward to it.

"It's a big challenge, we know that, we know what we need to do, so we just carry on and the positives from today we take into the Arsenal game."

Downing's former Boro team-mate and manager Gareth Southgate, now England boss, was at the Riverside to witness the latest chapter in an increasingly uncomfortable tale, and it might have stirred some unwelcome memories for him.

Eight years ago, he was in charge as they fought, ultimately unsuccessfully, for their top-flight lives.

Worryingly for present incumbent Steve Agnew, Southgate's team had 27 points, three more than they have currently, at the same stage and collected just five of the last 21 they contested to slip out of the division along with West Brom and Newcastle.

Boro's plight might have looked slightly healthier had two key moments in Saturday's game not gone against them.

England defender Michael Keane may count himself fortunate not to have been sent off after slipping as he chased substitute Patrick Bamford and felling the striker as he homed in on goal with Matthew Lowton clearing Downing's resulting 86th-minute free-kick off the line.

But earlier, keeper Tom Heaton had produced a stunning reaction save to claw out Alvaro Negredo's blistering volley.

Downing said: "I just tried to get half a yard on the lad, it's gone over [Ben] Mee and I'm just thinking, 'Alvaro, if he gets a connection, it's probably in', and he made an unbelievable save.

"He is a very good keeper and you can see why they get a lot of points because of probably him keeping them in games at times."

Burnley boss Sean Dyche was full of praise for Heaton on an afternoon when he was by far the happier manager.

He said: "I will say overall, he hasn't had that much to do. [Rudy] Gestede had a glancing header first half and that was probably it, but then they have a big chance and Tom makes a great save and then we have a big chance, so it looks like there wasn't much in it chance-wise.

"But Tom is assured, he's really got clean hands, he knows the game. He's still learning, he wants to learn - he's just got a good appetite for the profession and what it beholds."