STEWART DOWNING’S bizarre contract situation is no nearer to finding an amicable solution, with Rangers and Sunderland two of the clubs considering a summer move for the Middlesbrough player.

Downing’s former Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard, now in charge of Rangers, is weighing up whether to offer him a chance to continue his career north of the border next season.

While Sunderland manager Jack Ross, who is trying to secure Championship football to the Stadium of Light, will contemplate a move if they can deliver promotion – having already taken Grant Leadbitter to Wearside from Teesside in January.

Rangers and Sunderland are not the only two clubs showing an interest. Other English second tier teams have expressed an interest, while an overseas switch is still a possibility because the USA’s Major League Soccer has tempted him before.

Downing would prefer to stay closer to his North-East home for family reasons having moved back from West Ham United at the start of the 2015-16 season.

However, nothing is being ruled out because the 34-year-old still believes he is fit enough and has the ability to perform on the professional stage for a couple of years yet.

Downing has not started a game since December 29 when he helped Middlesbrough to beat Ipswich Town at the Riverside Stadium.

That was his 22nd league start of the campaign and another would trigger an automatic contract extension.

Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis has been instructed not to field him from the start because of the Premier League-style wage he earns at his hometown club, and fears they might not return to the top-flight this season.

Pulis has still played Downing regularly as a substitute. He has appeared eight further times from the bench since that Ipswich outing before the New Year. He was deemed to be the best Middlesbrough performer in the last game when they lost heavily at Aston Villa.

Middlesbrough need to recapture some better form if they are to maintain their chances of going up this season. They have lost the last three games and a four match winless run has seen a clutch up clubs close the gap to them in fifth.

Pulis’ team face leaders Norwich City at the Riverside on Saturday evening when he will be considering changes again following the frustration and disappointment of losing at Villa Park.

The target remains promotion for Middlesbrough because they know a failure to achieve that goal will result in further cost-cutting.

Middlesbrough are among a group of Championship clubs hoping there will be tougher stances for teams who don’t take spending rules seriously.

Birmingham City were hit with a nine point penalty last week for their overspending, which resulted in a £39m loss over a three-year cycle. Other clubs are in danger of breaking such rules too.

Middlesbrough, who have tightened their spending since granting Garry Monk plenty of cash to spend in the summer of 2017, would welcome action and are one of those urging Premier League chiefs to apply sanctions on those who win promotion by breaking the rules.

The group of Championship clubs want the Football League to look more seriously at those not adhering to the rulebook.

They want an independent inquiry into grey areas – and that was highlighted during a heated EFL meeting at Nottingham Forest last week when City were punished.