STEWART DOWNING is happy to continue putting the needs of the team above any individual ambitions as Middlesbrough attempt to push their way up the Premier League table.

Downing has been one of Boro’s most consistent performers during the opening two months of the season, with his hard-working displays on the left-hand side helping protect George Friend and ensure Boro’s defence has rarely been exposed down their opponents’ right flank.

However, Downing’s diligence has come at a cost, with the midfielder rarely threatening in the opposition penalty area and finding it difficult to break into a more central position.

Ideally, the 32-year-old would probably like to be playing in the ‘number ten’ role that he filled to such positive effect during the final stages of his time at West Ham, but Aitor Karanka clearly values his reliability and resolve on the left-hand side.

That might mean he has to wait a little while longer for his first goal of the season, but the Teessider is more than happy to continue running himself into the ground if it increases Boro’s chances of achieving a positive result.

“You’ve got to put a shift in,” said Downing, who is one of only three players to have started all of Boro’s league games this season. “The way we’re set up, everyone has to work hard, and especially if you’re playing in those wide positions.

“When you’re playing in the Premier League, the opposition are always going to have a bit of a spell so you have to defend as a team. That’s just the way it is. I’m sure if you ask other wingers in the Premier League, they’ll all say they have to track back and do a lot of work off the ball.

“It’s difficult. If you get something out of the game, it’s pleasing. It’s when you run around for 90 minutes and get beat 2-0 or 3-0, that’s when it’s demoralising. If you’re picking up points, you don’t have a problem with working hard. As long as we get results, I’m more than happy to work as hard as I can for the team.”

One of the most notable aspects of Downing’s play this season has been the way in which he has held on to the ball and repeatedly found a team-mate when looking to pass.

Whereas some Boro players have been guilty of surrendering possession fairly cheaply, Downing has rarely given the ball away.

Having spent the majority of his career in the Premier League, the former England international knows how damaging it can be to make mistakes in the top-flight, and having ended a three-match losing run with a draw at West Ham last weekend, he senses the penny is also beginning to drop with a number of his less experienced team-mates.

“Mistakes are a big thing because if you make them in the Premier League, you get punished,” said Downing. “You might get away with one or two in the Championship, but you’ll get punished at this level.

“As a team, we knew we had to stop people running at us. It’s just the little fine margins, but that’s what the lads will learn along the way. It’ll get easier with the more games they play, and they’ll get better.”

Meanwhile, Boro have sold out their 2,900-seat allocation for this month’s game at Arsenal, with tickets for the home match against Bournemouth on October 29 due to go on general sale today.