Boro lament Downing injury ahead of crunch clash
Middlesbrough boss Gareth Southgate has admitted Stewart Downing's injury woe is bad news whether or not the club remains in the Premier League.
The 24-year-old midfielder underwent surgery to repair the bone he broke in his right foot in a challenge with Aston Villa's Stiliyan Petrov last weekend and will not only miss on Sunday's season finale at West Ham, but England's World Cup qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Andorra.
Downing will have to look on helplessly as his home-town club attempt to stave off the seemingly inevitable at Upton Park where only a victory and favourable results elsewhere will extend their 11-year stay in the Premier League.
However, in the longer term, the injury could also ruin his chances of a big-money move away from Teesside during the summer, and also the club's chances of cashing in on him should they slip into the Championship.
Asked if Downing's injury could ironically keep him at the Riverside Stadium, Southgate said: "Possibly, depending on time-scale.
"But if he is here, it probably means he won't be available for the early part of the season anyway, so it is a bit of a double-edged sword.
"I guess we have just got to see how things progress.
"Even after the operation, a player who is highly motivated like Stewart and has a real desire to get back as quickly as possible will always get back quicker than players of a different mentality."
Downing has had a pin inserted into the bone and is expected not to be back in action until the start of pre-season training in July at the earliest.
By then, several familiar faces could be missing if Boro fail to pull off an unlikely escape on Sunday, although Southgate admits there will be radical changes whatever happens.
He said: "Having had the experiences we have had this season, both in terms of results and issues, it would be folly to not make wholesale changes.
"But that's for the summer."
Southgate was booed by sections of the home support after the 1-1 draw with Villa which left them on the brink, but he remains undeterred as he prepares to bounce back.
He said: "I was conscious that might happen, but it wasn't going to deter me from going on to the field.
"I have had eight years here, player and manager, and the relationship with the fans as a player was very, very special.
"When you become the manager, you put that relationship in jeopardy.
"But I am big enough to cope with that. I am also experienced enough to know that if we can turn results around, short and long term, then that can change back.
"You get used to dealing with setbacks, but if you want to achieve in life, you don't let those setbacks stop you.
"You make sure you learn from them, but that they are an inspiration to get going again.
"That's how I have always viewed any knock in my career."