I'll fight to keep Downing, says Southgate

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The Independent Football

Gareth Southgate insists he is keen to keep Stewart Downing at Middlesbrough despite continuing speculation over the England international's future. Downing has long been linked with Tottenham Hotspur and the 23-year-old's agent, Ian Elliott, was quoted on Tuesday saying that negotiations over a new contract would be cut off because of a lack of progress.

Yet Southgate remains keen to discuss new terms with Downing, who has two and a half years remaining on his present deal.

Downing remains one of Southgate's key players and the winger brushed aside the contract wrangles to produce a fine performance in Boro's 1-0 win over fellow Premier League strugglers Wigan Athletic on Tuesday.

"That was very helpful on the morning of a game!" Southgate said of Elliott's comments. "We would prefer to do our negotiating privately. I know it has been a frustrating and a difficult period for Stewart, there was speculation about him earlier in the month.

"But we have made it clear he is a big part of our club and a big part of our future. He knows what I feel. We want to get him sorted on a better contract than he is on. I know the agent said there wouldn't be any more negotiations but we would say you must always continue talking and keep opportunities open." Southgate added that neither Spurs nor any other club have come forward with an offer for the player.

He said: "We have had no written bid at all. We have telephone conversations about almost all our players but until something is more concrete there is never a decision to make."

One player who has left Boro for Tottenham this week is former Newcastle and Real Madrid defender Jonathan Woodgate. Southgate brought Woodgate to his hometown team, initially on loan, in 2006 after an injury-ravaged spell in Spain and he admits he is sorry to see him go.

"We are disappointed," Southgate said. "We went to great lengths to get him here and he gave us a terrific season last year. He was very important. But I feel Jonathan has felt a little unsettled this year. He wanted the opportunity to play higher up the league and I think for him the move is probably a good thing.

"We were only prepared to let it happen if we felt we had players who could come in and do a job in that position. We feel we have got that."

Boro put clear distance between themselves and the relegation zone as they emerged with three points from what ultimately proved a tense encounter with Wigan. Southgate's side created an abundance of chances, particularly in the early stages, but managed to convert only one, through Jérémie Aliadière on 18 minutes, and they were almost punished for their profligacy late on as Jason Koumas and Emile Heskey forced good saves from Mark Schwarzer.

The scoreline still flattered Wigan, whose new-look frontline of new signing Marlon King, top scorer Marcus Bent and Heskey failed to fire.

Yet manager Steve Bruce remained upbeat and believes he has a good enough squad to avoid relegation. "I said when I took over this job two months ago I would have been delighted to be in this position because we were in danger of being cut adrift," he said.

"We're not. We're right in amongst it. One win can lift us three or four places."

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