STEWART DOWNING was always confident Middlesbrough’s ability would come to the fore, and the midfielder is hoping to contribute to even more improvement in the next few weeks.

Boro claimed three successive victories prior to the international break, a run of form that lifted them to fifth position in the table and banished some of the frustration that had been building after a run of poor home results.

Having impressed on the front foot as they won at Reading and Hull, the Teessiders displayed commendable resolve as they ground out a derby win over Sunderland, and Downing was pleased to see his side living up to their billing as pre-season promotion favourites.

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The former England international always suspected it would take time for Garry Monk’s new-look side to gel, but having generated some much-needed momentum at the end of last month, he is hoping to see signs of further progress when Boro return to action with a trip to Leeds United this weekend.

“Three wins have put us in the top six, although we have always said that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish in May,” said Downing, who has successfully established himself as a permanent fixture in Monk’s first team despite having been made available for transfer at the start of the summer.

“There have been murmurings around – we aren’t playing well, whatever – but once it settles, I think you can see the quality of our team.

“Look at the players who weren’t even involved against Sunderland. That’s the quality we have. Everyone is fighting to stay in the team.”

Downing has spent the last week training with the majority of his team-mates at Rockliffe Park, and the next few days will see the squad step up their preparations for the trip to Elland Road.

Darren Randolph and Cyrus Christie remain on international duty with the Republic of Ireland, with Martin Braithwaite still involved with Denmark, and Marcus Tavernier is competing in the European Championships with the Under-19s.

Most of Boro’s players are at the training ground though, and Monk has always regarded the international breaks as a key opportunity to pass on his ideas and methods to his squad.

Downing can appreciate the value of being able to spend time together on the training pitch, but with Boro having been on a fine run of form prior to the international break, the 33-year-old admits the current hiatus might not have come at an ideal time.

“It’s good and bad really,” he said. “When you think about the international break, you think it’s a good time for the players who have picked up injuries to recover.

“Personally, I would rather continue to be playing, but it’s nice to have gone into a break on the back of three wins. We can really look forward now and prepare for the Leeds game, which is a massive one.”

Weekend reports suggest Sunday’s game at Elland Road could be crucial to the job prospects of Thomas Christiansen, with Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani reportedly ready to sack his Danish manager if he fails to claim a victory in his next two games.

Leeds face Boro and Wolves in the space of four days, and have won just one of their last eight matches in all competitions, slipping to tenth position in the table after a strong start to the season.