KARANKA HAILS SUPER SUB STEW
MIDDLESBROUGH boss Aitor Karanka admitted he couldn’t fault Stewart Downing’s professionalism after the ex-England winger responded to being dropped in exactly the right fashion.
After seeing Boro go three games without a goal, Karanka took the bold step of dropping Downing – who returned to his hometown club for £5m in the summer – as well as his other flying winger, Albert Adomah.
But, trailing to David Edwards’ firsthalf header for Wolves, the wide men came on and turned the game as Boro produced a stirring fightback in the last 20 minutes.
Diego Fabbrini’s 20-yarder levelled matters, Grant Leadbitter’s penalty gave Boro the lead and Downing’s stunning 25-yard free-kick sealed victory in added time.
And Karanka said: “If we play always with this spirit we are not going to lose many games. It was important after the last three games that we had this type of reaction.
“I’ve only known Stewart as a person for two or three months but he is a great guy and loves this club 150 per cent.
“He understands that my decisions are always thinking about the team. He came on and made a difference – and he’s a player who can do that.
“He knows the way we are working – and he knows that it has been successful for us the last two years. He understands that perfectly.
“Stewart is one of our best players, if not the best, and I am really pleased with him. He knows that ‘the name’ with me is nothing, it is all about the attitude. And his attitude has been amazing.”
There were few chances in a fairly tepid first half, although Boro rightback Tomas Kalas did sting the fingertips of Wolves goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez with a 12th-minute 25-yard rocket.
But it was Wolves who led at the interval as Scott Golbourne’s fine centre was headed home by a stooping Edwards midway through the first half.
Wolves could have sealed victory after the break but Boro keeper Dimi Konstantopoulos made a cracking save to turn away James Henry’s half-volley from Nathan Byrne’s cross.
That save proved a turning point as Boro, inspired by the impact of Downing and Adomah, went from never looking like scoring to running out 3-1 winners in a madcap last 20 minutes. ‘Attack, attack, attack’ roared their goal-starved fans and how they did, spurred on by Fabbrini finding the bottom corner from 20 yards to level on 71 minutes.
They were ahead with nine minutes to go as Byrne’s reckless tackle on George Friend left Darren Drysdale – on as a half-time replacement for injured referee James Linington – no option but to point to the spot and Leadbitter’s penalty found the bottom corner.
Downing’s sublime 25-yard free-kick sealed the points in time added on to leave Wolves boss Kenny Jackett worried about injuries piling up after a third defeat on the spin.
Jackett felt the loss of centre-half Kortney Hause to a hamstring strain on the hour mark cost Wolves dear, saying: “In the end, Middlesbrough had too much for us.
“We put on a spirited performance but we ran out of recognised defenders which I felt cost us. Key injuries just weakened us at the wrong time.
“The spirit, effort and application has been very good but we have just conceded nine goals in three games so we need to address that because it doesn’t give you the chance to earn points.
“The goals against column is hurting us at the minute.
“Ultimately, defensively, we need to get to zeroes and ones which gives you a chance as a team.”
GAME ON: Middlesbrough’s Grant Leadbitter celebrates scoring their second goal from the penalty spot