MIDDLESBROUGH’S play-off prospects have been given a major boost by Stewart Downing being in line to start tonight for the first time since the turn of the year.
The former England international has been confined to the bench in recent months due to a clause in his contract that meant one more start would trigger an automatic one-year extension.
Downing has effectively waived the clause, meaning he is available to start the final nine games of the season. It is a big lift for Pulis ahead of tonight’s game.
Boro, looking to cut the wage bill next season if the club is not promoted, made Downing one of their highest earners when he returned to Teesside at a time when then manager Aitor Karanka was splashing the cash in what proved to be a successful push for the Premier League.
Current boss Tony Pulis, a confirmed admirer of the 34-year-old, has had to make do without Downing’s influence from the start of games, but agreement has now been reached between the club and player.
Downing has effectively waived the clause, meaning he is available to start the final nine games of the season.
It is a big lift for Pulis ahead of tonight’s home game with Bristol City. Four straight losses have seen Boro slip out of the play-off spots, but a home win would be enough to leapfrog Bristol City and reclaim a place in the top six.
A month ago the chances of the Teesside club having it all to do during April to remain in the promotion hunt seemed slim.
Seven points and a vastly superior goal difference separated Boro from Derby County in seventh place following a goalless draw at Wigan Athletic on March 2.
Now, though, Derby sit one point ahead of Pulis’s men after substantially boosting their goals -for column via the weekend 6-1 thrashing of Rotherham United.
Aston Villa have also left Boro trailing to turn what had been a 10-point deficit into a two-point advantage albeit having played a game more than Boro.
It makes tonight’s encounter with the Robins, fresh from putting a big dent in Sheffield United’s automatic promotion hopes, a potentially pivotal one in a season that last saw Downing start on December 29 against Ipswich Town.
Last six games: Middlesbrough WDLLLL Bristol City LLDLDW.
Referee: G Ward (Surrey).
Last time: Middlesbrough 2 Bristol City 1 April 14, 2018; Championship.