RICHIE SMALLWOOD is ready to fight for a place in Middlesbrough's first team next season after revealing the club have taken up the option of extending his contract to 2015.
Smallwood joined Rotherham United on loan in January and has been a prominent figure in the Millers' attempts to win promotion from League One.
The midfielder will remain at the New York Stadium until the end of the current campaign, but is already looking forward to returning to Teesside for the start of pre-season training in the summer.
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Having been allowed to join Rotherham despite featuring in 13 matches for Middlesbrough in the first half of the season, it had looked like the 23-year-old would be allowed to leave when his original contract was due to expire in June.
However, the club have opted to retain him for another 12 months, and Smallwood is determined to make the most of his extended stay at the Riverside.
“It has been going great at Rotherham,” said Smallwood, who hails from Dormanstown. “Everyone at the club - staff and fans alike - have been first class with me and I think that has shown in my performances on the pitch.
“Obviously Boro have extended my deal now, so it seems I might be going back for the summer, and if that is the case I will be doing everything I can to show what I feel, and that is that I am good enough to be playing in the Championship.”
Luke Williams has established himself in Boro's first team after returning from a loan spell in the Football League, so there is hope for Smallwood as he attempts to force his way into Aitor Karanka's plans.
The Boro boss has always promised to keep a close eye on Boro's loan players, and the decision to offer Smallwood a new deal suggests that Karanka's backroom team have seen enough to suggest the combative midfielder could yet become a first-team regular at Championship level.
While Smallwood will not be involved with Boro in the final four matches of the Championship season, it is hoped striker Kei Kamara could return to the first-team squad before the end of the campaign.
The Sierra Leone international travelled to Germany last week for keyhole surgery to rectify a hernia problem, and his recovery is already sufficiently advanced for him to have returned to light training at Rockliffe Park.
He will not be considered for Saturday's home game with Millwall, and is unlikely to make the midweek trip to Reading. However, it is hoped he could feature against either Barnsley or Yeovil as Boro look to make an unlikely late surge into the play-off positions.