KARANKA HAILS SU­PER SUB STEW

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Michael Beard­more

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.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Images

GAME ON: Mid­dles­brough’s Grant Lead­bit­ter cel­e­brates scor­ing their sec­ond goal from the penalty spot

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