Bad times come - you just bave to work through them Bad times come - you just bave to work through them

STRIKER BAF­FLED BY SIN­GLE GOAL IN LAST YEAR

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Chris Dunlavy

DANNY Gra­ham is noth­ing if not hon­est. What, I ask him, is the key to scor­ing goals? “I don’t know,” pon­ders the Middlesbrough striker be­fore break­ing into a wry chuckle. “But if you’ve got it, can I have it back please?”

Gra­ham is jok­ing of course, but the laugh­ter masks a bru­tal re­al­ity. Since fin­ish­ing the 2011-12 sea­son with 14 Pre­mier League goals for Swansea, the Ge­ordie hit­man has found the

net just eight times, and only once since Jan­uary 2013. Once val­ued at £5m, he has played for four clubs and five man­agers in a shade over 12 months and now finds him­self on loan at Middlesbrough, the club where he started as a pro way back in 2003.

“I can’t lie,” he ad­mits. “2013 was a bad year, but what can you do? I can’t have it back. It’s in the past and I want to keep it there.”

Gra­ham’s bar­ren patch be­gan when Brendan Rodgers – the man who signed Gra­ham from Wat­ford – left Swansea to join Liver­pool in the sum­mer of 2012.

Lit­tle ad­mired by re­place­ment Michael Lau­drup and over­shad­owed by Span­ish sen­sa­tion Michu, Gra­ham grew ac­cus­tomed to life on the bench, even­tu­ally join­ing Martin O’Neil’s Sun­der­land in Jan­uary 2013.

First came a lack of goals, then the re­place­ment of O’Neil with Ital­ian fire­brand Paolo Di Canio. Once again, the new em­peror had lit­tle time for for­mer sub­jects and Gra­ham was jet­ti­soned, loaned first to Hull, then to Boro.

It’s hardly a recipe for con­sis­tency, but re­fresh­ingly, Gra­ham doesn’t blame the up­heaval for his lack of form.

Ex­cuse

“Plenty of foot­ballers have been through that,” says Gra­ham, who hit 30 goals in 91 league games for Carlisle and 38 in 91 for Wat­ford be­fore join­ing Swansea in the sum­mer of 2011.

“You sign for a man­ager who trusts you and plays you reg­u­larly. Then he leaves and some­one comes in who maybe doesn’t fancy you so much.

“It hap­pened at Swansea, then again at Sun­der­land. But I’m not the only one and I’d never use it as an ex­cuse. On the oc­ca­sions I did get games, I didn’t score, so it’s hard to ar­gue I gave the man­ager much of an op­tion.

“It’s a funny one, and I’d hon­estly love to have an an­swer for you. I’d love to have an an­swer for my­self. But I re­ally don’t. I think in foot­ball, you just have good times and bad times, times when things go for you and times when they don’t. This last year has cer­tainly been a bad one, but I’m putting it down to a freak.

“I’m back now. I’m fit. Ai­tor (Karanka) has said I’ll be play­ing matches reg­u­larly, and that’s re­ally the key for me. The sooner I get back play­ing, the sooner I’ll start scor­ing and then hope­fully 2014 can be a good one.”

At least the sur­round­ings will be fa­mil­iar af­ter spend­ing the first four years of his ca­reer a the River­side.

Born in the Gateshead sub­urb of Birt­ley, Gra­ham was 17 and work­ing as a win­dow fit­ter for a dou­ble glaz­ing com­pany when he was spotted by Middlesbrough in 2003.

“I was play­ing for Ch­ester-le-Street in the North­ern League and we played in the FA Youth Cup,” he re­calls. “A Middlesbrough scout came to a few of the games, spotted me, and that was it re­ally.

“I had a week’s trial, played against Black­burn Rovers Un­der-19s on the Satur­day af­ter­noon. On the Tues­day night I went back to play for the Ch­ester-le-Street first team and scored twice. Then the fol­low­ing day I got a call from the club and the next thing I knew I was sign­ing for Middlesbrough. A year-and-a-half later I was mak­ing my de­but against Man United.”

Gra­ham never quite made the grade at Tee­side, stuck be­hind the stars of a team reg­u­larly in the top half of the Pre­mier League. Now, seven years af­ter leav­ing to rebuild his ca­reer at Carlisle, he is the main man.

Ad­vice

“I’m the older player now, which I never thought would hap­pen,” says Gra­ham, 28. “When I was in the youth team we had Gareth South­gate, Ugo Ehiogu, Bolo Zen­den – to come into that en­vi­ron­ment was su­perb for me. Those play­ers would al­ways be there to of­fer help or ad­vice and if I can do the same, I will.

“It’s ob­vi­ously changed quite a lot since I left, but there are a few old faces – Seb Hines, Ja­son Steele, Jonathan Woodgate.

“It was quite strange, the first cou­ple of days. Walk­ing through the build­ings, re­mem­ber­ing where to go for this or that, see­ing some fa­mil­iar faces among the staff. It’s like you’ve gone back in time.

“But there’s no deny­ing things are very dif­fer­ent. Middlesbrough are a Cham­pi­onship club now, try­ing to get back to where they were then. It is bit sad, yeah. When I was here, they got to the UEFA Cup fi­nal and were reg­u­larly fin­ish­ing in the top half of the Pre­mier League.We had a fu­ture Eng­land man­ager, world-class play­ers com­ing ev­ery sum­mer. It’s very strange to see them in the mid­dle of the Cham­pi­onship and I’m here to hope­fully try and change that.”

Which will, of course, mean scor­ing goals. For both Gra­ham and Boro, that has proved tough in re­cent months, with the Teesiders hav­ing failed to score in each of their last five games.

But the last time Gra­ham played Cham­pi­onship foot­ball for Wat­ford, he fin­ished as the di­vi­sion’s top scorer with 24. And de­spite the set­backs, he in­sists he is ready to do it again.

“I haven’t lost that con­fi­dence,” says Gra­ham. “I still be­lieve I’ll score goals, be that in the Cham­pi­onship or the Pre­mier League.

“I know I’m ca­pa­ble of scor­ing goals in the top flight. I did that at Swansea when I got 14. It’s a cliché, but you don’t be­come a bad player overnight. And I know that once I get a cou­ple on the board, I’ll be fly­ing.

“All we both need is a bit of luck – one to go in off the back­side or hit you in the face and fly in the top cor­ner. Then who knows? Maybe we can launch a late run at the play-offs.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

GLASS HALF EMPTY: Danny Gra­ham cel­e­brates a goal be­fore they dried up for him

GOLDEN DAYS: Gra­ham scores dur­ing his pro­lific spell for Wat­ford. Right: Now he is try­ing to get his ca­reer back on track at Middlesbrough

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