MIDDLESBROUGH accept time is running out to engineer a loan move for former winger Stewart Downing this week, but will rekindle their interest in January if they are unable to strike a deal ahead of tomorrow's Football League deadline.
The Football League's loan window closes at 5pm tomorrow and does not reopen until the Europe-wide transfer window reopens at the turn of the year.
It increasingly looks as though Downing will still be at Liverpool at that point, even though the England international is keen to leave Anfield now in order to secure regular first-team action.
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The 28-year-old still believes he can make a success of his time on Merseyside, but Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has effectively admitted he does not see Downing as part of his plans.
Rather than kick his heels for the next six weeks, Downing would prefer to be involved elsewhere, even if that means dropping back into the Championship for a short period.
Middlesbrough officials are aware of the situation and boss Tony Mowbray has been mulling over the potential merits of a move for one of his club's most effective performers of the last decade.
Come January, Boro could face competition from a number of Premier League clubs who would like to take Downing on loan, but who are unable to do so at the moment because of transfer regulations.
To further complicate matters, sources on Merseyside claim Liverpool will attempt to sell Downing, who cost them £19m when he moved from Aston Villa, rather than look to loan him out in January.
With that in mind, Boro's chances of re-signing the Pallister Park-raised midfielder would be significantly improved if they were able to agree a short-term deal in the next day-and-a-half.
However, the logistics of such an agreement would be extremely complex given Downing's current wages at Anfield.
Downing is understood to be earning around £80,000 a week at Liverpool, and while Boro chairman Steve Gibson has continued to bankroll his club's promotion push despite this season's disappointing attendances, the Teessiders are not in a position to fund their former academy product's pay packet.
Persuading Liverpool to pay most of Downing's wages while he is playing elsewhere would not be easy, and the chances of striking an agreement ahead of tomorrow afternoon's deadline are remote.
Nevertheless, the fact that Downing has expressed an interest in returning to Teesside will strengthen Boro's desire to make a renewed approach in January, by which time they will hope to have greater confidence that they will be involved in the promotion shake-up come the end of the season.
* Middlesbrough supporters have a chance to meet some first-team stars when the club hosts the first of its festive signing sessions tomorrow.
Rhys Williams, George Friend and Kevin Thomson will be at the town-centre MFC store between 5-6pm to sign items of official merchandise and have their photos taken with supporters.