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Returning Downing can inspire Boro – but Preston visit will be a challenge

07 Aug | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Returning Downing can inspire Boro – but Preston visit will be a challenge

The England international could still be playing in the Premier League - it will be fascinating to see how he performs at Deepdale

The tale of a former local lad returning to the club where he made his name for one last hurrah is a warm and familiar narrative in football.

That the player usually has less ability – and hair – than when he left some years earlier rarely quells the fans’ enthusiasm for the switch.

History, though – Francis Jeffers back to Everton and Joe Cole returning to West Ham are just two examples – tells us that, like deciding to give it a go with a former flame, the old magic is rarely recaptured.

But Stewart Downing re-joining boyhood club Middlesbrough this summer feels – and is – different.

The opportunity to return home to Teeside – the place where Downing was born and lived prior to joining Aston Villa six years ago – was probably the decisive factor in his decision.

Giddy feelings of nostalgia aside, though, and it is clearly a fantastic signing by the promotion hopefuls.

6/1 – Middlesbrough to win the Championship

Downing is undoubtedly a Premier League-quality footballer – he started for England as recently as last November – who should be one of the Championship’s outstanding players.

The fee – £5m – is ordinarily a lot to pay for a player who has recently turned 31. But that will be smart business if he is able to fire them to the top flight.

Downing, who recorded eight assists and six goals in the top flight last season, is more than capable.

Back wearing his old No. 19 shirt, the left-footed playmaker will operate centrally, finding spaces in behind the lines and creating chances for his team-mates.

For the beaten play-off finalists, who often struggled for firepower last season and are yet to replace last season’s top scorer Patrick Bamford – a big-money move for Blackburn Rovers striker is likely – the addition of Downing could be crucial.

If there is a question mark against the former Liverpool and West Ham man, it is whether he can handle the rigmarole of the English second-tier.

A trip to Deepdale to face newly-promoted Preston, therefore, should give us an idea.

9/4 – Preston and Middlesbrough to draw

Simon Grayson’s side escaped League One in emphatic style, defeating Swindon Town 4-0 in the play-off final at Wembley.

Striker Jermaine Beckford, who scored a hat-trick on that day, has joined the club on a permanent basis.

13/2 – Jermaine Beckford to be first goalscorer

So has another previous loan signing, Paul Gallagher, although a deal for Manchester United goalkeeper Sam Johnstone remains incomplete due to the current uncertainty over the future of David De Gea at Old Trafford.

Last year’s performances from Brentford and Wolves, newly-promoted clubs who finished fifth and seventh respectively, will give Grayson confidence that his side, who are returning to the Championship for the first time since 2010/11, can enjoy a successful season.

And with Preston having lost only one league game at home all season, Downing can expect anything but an easy second debut.

9/2 – Stewart Downing to score at anytime

The Championship

READ: Rob Burnett: Get ready for the Championship – the most exciting league in the world