Bumper Riverside crowd has Downing dreaming of Premier League return with Middlesbrough

MIDDLESBROUGH’S Capital One Cup journey may be over, but Stewart Downing has expressed gratitude for the reappearance of the equivalent of an old friend on Tuesday night.

Middlesbrough's Stewart Downing.

It had been a fair while since the Teessider had played in front of a 30,000-plus Riverside crowd, the like of which were the norm when he made his name during his first spell at Boro – when they were exclusively in the Premier League until he left for Aston Villa following relegation at the end of 2008-09.

A bumper attendance of 31,628 flocked to the Riverside for Boro’s cup exit to Everton and despite the result – with the Blues racing into a 2-0 lead after just under half an hour which ultimately proved unassailable – the big game atmosphere proved a vibrant rewind for Downing.

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A similar crowd is likely to be nailed-on in Boro’s attractive-looking festive league fixture with Sheffield Wednesday on December 28.

Downing is hoping it’s a sign of things to come in the new year as the hosts seek to end their eight-season exile from the top-flight – with the midfielder confident that Tuesday’s bumper attendance will be regulation if Boro end their spell outside of the big time.

Downing said: “It was like the old days. It was fantastic.

“A full house and a great atmosphere in a game against a very good team – that should give the lads a great incentive to get promoted, so the Riverside can be like that every week again.

“It was like the old days for me and the rest of the lads who maybe haven’t seen it like that too often were delighted with it.

“I was telling them before the game what to expect and that the Middlesbrough fans really go for it in the big games.

“I know when you go behind it can sometimes go a bit flat, but against Everton they kept with us, kept the noise going and that really helped.”

Despite being eliminated in comprehensive fashion from the cup, Boro have been backed in their quest to return to the big time, by victorious Everton manager Roberto Martinez.

The Goodison chief said: “Middlesbrough had a terrific few years and then they lost their way a little bit.

“Aitor Karanka, what he has done as a foreign man – which is very, very difficult – is to understand the needs of the football club, understand what the fans want and he has put together a team that it is just a matter of time before they (Boro) get back into the Premier League.”