Mowbray reality check over Downing return

TONY MOWBRAY expects to have to beat off strong Premier League interest if he is to land Middlesbrough lad Stewart Downing to boost his promotion drive in January.

The Boro manager, whose side host Bristol City and face a reunion with former captain Matthew Bates, has revealed his interest in the out-of-favour Liverpool winger and former Boro favourite.

But prospects of a deal ahead of the emergency loan window were not a serious option with Downing part of the Reds’ squad for Thursday night’s Europa League game with Young Boys at Anfield.

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Boro could now make a formal approach to sign the 28-year-old in the New Year, but a number of variables, most notably his reported £80,000-a-week wage packet mean that a deal would take considerable work to get over the line.

Especially with a number of top-flight sides likely to be interested if Liverpool chief Brendan Rodgers does make the Teessider available.

Mowbray said: “I do not want to talk about him (Downing), he’s a Liverpool player. The bottom line is, half the Premier League would probably like to buy him if he becomes available.

“He is an international footballer, we are Middlesbrough in the Championship, who have been selling players for the last two years. We have reduced the wage bill from £27m down to £12m, £15m off it, gone. That’s where we are.

“And if I was a Premier League manager why wouldn’t I want Stewart Downing? Half the league would want him.”

Boro face defensive problems against the Robins, with George Friend (hamstring tear) joining Jonathan Woodgate, Stuart Parnaby and Rhys Williams on the sidelines. Inquiries to boost the back four ahead of Thursday’s loan deadline came to nothing.

“I had one or two conversations because I do feel slightly vulnerable defensively,” said Mowbray.

“With one or two more injuries we will be going right in to our squad. We have Friend, Woodgate, Parnaby, Williams – all defensive players – out injured so I made some calls. But I am hopeful all of them will be back in a week or so, so why spend a lot over the next few weeks? I wouldn’t spend on another centre-half for him to sit on the bench.”