STEWART DOWNING expects plenty of changes at Middlesbrough before pre-season training starts in late June, and has urged chairman Steve Gibson to clear up the uncertainty surrounding the manager’s position as soon as possible.

Leeds United boss Garry Monk and former Boro captain Nigel Pearson are two of the main contenders for the post, with the former regarded as the frontrunner after quitting Elland Road on Thursday.

Sources close to Leeds have suggested Monk believes he stands a better chance of having the backing to deliver promotion at the Riverside, although there is also interest from Crystal Palace, Watford, Hull City and Sunderland.

The 38-year-old will certainly not be short of offers and Gibson is understood to be looking to finalise the role in the days ahead.

Downing thinks movement, one way or another if Steve Agnew ended up staying in charge, is required to give the man leading them into next season the best chance of getting things in place early.

“I'm sure there are going to be a lot of changes over the next six weeks. The managerial situation needs clarifying so we can get on with it,” said Downing.

“If it is a new manager then he is going to want time, if it is Steve Agnew then he probably has his own ideas in place already. He’s probably known for months what he wants to do.

“I've taken some stick for saying I'm supporting him but I've known Steve for a long time and know what he's got to offer.

“Results so far have been disappointing but it is not his team, it’s probably not the way he would like to play, not everyone is fully fit, not everyone has wanted to be here. He’s been given, not an impossible task but certainly a very difficult one.”

Regardless of who is in charge, Boro will clearly be faced with a different challenge next season. Rather than just competing in the Premier League to survive, Gibson is intent on ensuring they bounce straight back up.

Downing was part of the promotion push under Aitor Karanka, and the base of that squad remains. There will still need to be additions though, but those can only follow after a new manager is appointed.

The 32-year-old said: “We need a different sort of player in the Championship. It is a very difficult league. In some ways it is as hard as the Premier League. There are a lot of games and it’s a real battle. You have to fight and scrap in every game.

“You saw how hard it was to get over the line last time. Every game is tough. You go to places like Birmingham and Bolton you have to fight all the way. Every game is tough. You need people who can scrap. You need grafters.

“I’m confident. There's a good core of us who know what it takes. There are lads who have been here longer than me who have had the disappointment of Wembley. So as a group we know what the challenge is, what we need to do.

“If we can add to that and make the group stronger in certain areas then we will be better still. I think we will be a strong team next season. I think we will be up there and challenging.”

If Monk does move in he can at least do so safe in the knowledge the club’s reputable academy system is still ranked among the best.

The academy, which has entered a new era after manager Dave Parnaby and head of recruitment Ron Bone’s retirements, has retained its category one status in the Elite Player Performance Plan.

New academy chief Craig Liddle said: “We are delighted that we have once again been recognised with Category One status. A tremendous amount of hard work has gone in from the academy and football club towards this important achievement.

“Our academy has a fantastic history of achievement and with the category one status in place we can look forward to continuing that good work.”

Former head of sport science Peter Hood is now assistant academy manager.