Paul Downing believes hard work behind the scenes helped keep him match sharp after a rare outing against Sheffield Wednesday last weekend.

Downing hopes to have planted a seed of doubt in the mind of manager Tony Mowbray after impressing when deputising for Darragh Lenihan in the 4-2.

The 27-year-old was making just a second league start of the campaign against the Owls, having fallen down the pecking order, and faces a battle for his place at Middlesbrough with Darragh Lenihan back in training.

“That’s the job of every player to make the manager’s decision as difficult as possible,” he said.

“I’ve had a number of chats with them, they have been honest conversations and we’ve worked how we do this week.

“Darragh was out there so we will see what the team is.

“I’m ready and raring to go if selected and will keep training hard and when I’m next selected I can go out there and do my job.”

Downing has worked a lot with the club's head of athletic performance Chris Rush so to maintain his fitness, as well as turning out for the club's Under-23s side.

He was a regular last season, deputising for the injured Lenihan having made his move permanent in January after an initial loan move.

And he added: “It’s been tough, mentally when you do all the training and don’t get selected.

“But that’s part and parcel of football, you can only select 11 players.

“I’ve tried to keep my head down, train hard and do extra work which helped me put in a strong performance on Saturday.

“I have to keep on my toes, staying fit and being ready because it’s a long season and we have a lot of games coming up.

“Rushy has done a lot of gym sessions with me, probably more than anyone, with not playing football.

“I’ve had an individual programme, done extra running, which has kept me really fit.

“I won’t go away from that, I will keep my feet on the ground and keep working hard so when my next chance comes I’m ready to go again.”

On being recalled last weekend, he added: “It was good. You miss being out there.

“For me it’s been a frustrating period of time but I was delighted to make a contribution, get a start and help the boys pick a win up which was needed after a disappointing few performances.

“It’s a very strong dressing room, I was really pleased to make a contribution and happy the lads recognised that.

“But there were a number of really good performances in there, and it was a strong team performance against a good side.”