Downing avoids Middlesbrough boos
Middlesbrough 1 Sunderland 1
Stewart Downing might not quite be in the Kevin Pietersen school of unpopularity with his team-mates, but it appears his inept attempt to engineer a transfer to Tottenham has not been wholeheartedly welcomed in the Middlesbrough dressing room.
"I don't know if a move will be good but it's his decision and whatever happens will happen," was Julio Arca's take on the uneasy truce between the unsettled midfielder and his hometown club, which is widely assumed will lead to a parting of the ways in the summer, a little over a year after the player signed a lucrative five-year contract.
Arca added: "Whatever happens, players have to go out and do their best no matter how long they're going to be here, if that's a couple of weeks or until the end of the season." An impassioned plea for Downing to stay, this was not. Nor, if what Arca says is anything to go by, will there be one forthcoming with the players apparently keen to brush this sorry affair under the carpet.
Following his astonishingly self-centred efforts to leave a ship which threatens to sink in his absence, Downing received a remarkably cordial reception from home supporters before, from a free midfield role, combining with Afonso Alves for the Brazilian to confidently open the scoring at the end of a poor first half.
"It's understandable some fans are not happy with Stewart," Arca added. "It's his decision and he has his own reasons. That's why we don't talk to him about it. We don't want to push him away by questioning why."
Middlesbrough have dropped 15 points from winning positions this season after succumbing to Sunderland's late rally as Kenwyne Jones swept home a deserved equaliser.
In contrast to Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate, Ricky Sbragia's focus is on making, rather than fending off, bids in January. In distancing himself from the West Ham defender Calum Davenport, the Scot concedes he faces a steep learning curve in his first transfer window as Sunderland manager. "It's an area I haven't got a great amount of experience in," he said.
Goals: Alves 45 (1-0), Jones 82 (1-1).
Middlesbrough (4-4-1-1) Turnbull; McMahon, Riggott, Wheater, Pogatetz; Tuncay Sanli, Digard (Bates, 66), Walker (Johnson, 48), Arca; Downing; Alves (Mido, 86). Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Taylor, Emnes, Huth.
Sunderland (4-4-2) Fulop; Chimbonda, Nosworthy, Ferdinand, Collins; Malbranque (Edwards, 54), Whitehead, Richardson (Healy, 80), Diouf (Reid, 67); Jones, Cisse. Substitutes not used: Colgan (gk), Tainio, Murphy, Yorke.
Referee: P Dowd.
Man of the match: Stewart Downing.