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Stewart Downing the hero for Boro again

Press Association logoPress Association 28/01/2017

Middlesbrough head coach Aitor Karanka has told FA Cup hero Stewart Downing he has played himself back into Premier League contention.

The former England midfielder smashed home a stunning winner to edge Premier League Boro to a 1-0 fourth round victory over League Two Accrington, capping an impressive individual display on his return to the starting line-up for the first time since New Year's Eve.

Downing has been linked with a move away from the Riverside Stadium this month, but Karanka insisted after the game that he remains part of his plans.

"I don't know who was speaking. I have said Stewart was an important player for us at the start of the season. He is one of the few players who has Premier League experience," Karanka said.

"I showed that I trusted him today and when I can give him a chance, I will."

It took Boro 69 minutes to find a way through the Accrington defence on a day when chances went begging.

But Downing was not found wanting when he took aim from 25 yards and drilled the ball past keeper Marek Rodak and into the top corner to book a place in the hat for the fifth round draw, although Stanley midfielder Sean McConville wasted a glorious opportunity to level with seven minutes remaining.

Accrington boss John Coleman was disappointed by the defeat and admitted a replay could have been a "godsend" for his club.

"To only lose 1-0 - we haven't embarrassed ourselves. I know it's probably the last thing Middlesbrough needed, but a replay would have been a godsend for us financially.

"It probably would have been on the telly and a big gate and it would have enhanced our chances for what we do next year.

"These games probably don't have the impact on Middlesbrough that they could have on us long-term.

Meanwhile, Karanka was remaining tight-lipped about the possibility of signing Paris St Germain's Jese Rodriguez as the transfer window draws to a close.

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