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Stew's no scapegoat.

The short-sighted England boo-boys - in the press box as well as the stands - have now made Boro's flying flanker the unofficial scapegoat for all the national team's failings.

Middlesbrough lad Downing, the best English-born left-footer of his generation, was booed from the off by the baying travelling support in Barcelona as Steve McClaren's side laboured to a dour 3-0 win over minnows Andorra. He has also been pilloried in the national press for a poor display.

But the whole team was uninspired, disjointed and lacklustre. So why single out Downing to take the flak?

There were some far bigger names who put in far worse performances, not just against minnows Andorra but also in the bore draw against Israel, who have escaped the cruel attentions of the poison pen press pack.

The Boro man has been found guilty by association. The frenzied media witchhunt against his one-time Middlesbrough manager Steve McClaren is now in full flow and former charge Downing is simply a stick to beat him with.

That was apparent from very early on. The last time England played well was in a friendly against Greece in which Downing provided three assists, but his contribution was ignored.

But he carried the can for a goalless draw with Macedonia and was booed again - by the same people who booed Owen Hargreaves before the last World Cup but now deem him indispensable.

After a clumsy press campaign he was dropped - and between then and the Andorra game England scored one in five and were pilloried for lacking creativity - as, in his place, a series of right-footed players have laboured down the left.

Boro fans will be branded paranoid at their reaction but can there be any doubt that had Downing played for a fashionable big club that he would be given far more leeway? Indeed, praised?

Had he been Aaron Lennon, for instance - a player who barely touched the ball but plays for a glamour club - he would be branded as the next big thing.

The fear for Boro fans is that for Downing to be hailed with England he must move clubs.
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Title Annotation:Sport Boro
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Mar 29, 2007
Words:352
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