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Steele wants Boro to make up for poor start to 2013
MIDDLESBROUGH'S players have started pre-season training without Jason Steele and the Middlesbrough goalkeeper has welcomed the extra time off to help him erase the memories of the last six months.
Since hitting the turn of the year believing a Premier League return was on the cards, Steele has dealt with Boro's dreadful collapse in the Championship and a miserable summer with England's Under-21s.
It has not been the start to 2013 he was expecting, so he is keen to see more positivity around the club's Rockliffe Park training base when he comes back from his holiday ahead of next season.
Middlesbrough have already made their first signing of the summer with Hungarian midfielder Jozsef Varga arriving on a season-long loan and ex-Sunderland man Dean Whitehead is expected to follow.
"To be honest I can't wait to get back to work," said Steele. "The season starts very early, so it will be great to be back. There are so many wrongs that I want to put right and that needs hard work in pre-season.
"I don't know what went wrong. I can't put my finger on it but I wish I could. We won four or five games on the trot before Christmas and I remember telling my dad I don't think we will lose again this season. I just couldn't see us getting beat, we were playing so well.
"On New Year's Day we went to Derby and got stuffed and we were never quite the same again. We lost 3-1 and we were so bad that day it could have been 33-1. I don't know what happened that day but it all went downhill from there."
Steele had been expecting his smile to return when he went on international duty with the Under-21s. After heading in to the European Championships with high hopes, England did not make the knockout stages.
"That was very flat," said Steele. "It was as if someone had just popped a pin in our bubble because we had been doing so well before the tournament. We went into Israel unbeaten in nine in a row and had not conceded a goal as well, so for what happened to us was a shock to the system.
"I sat in the stands for the first two games, but I remember in the second match against Norway thinking it was just a matter of time before we took the lead and went on to win comfortably.
"I looked up and they had two shots and were two goals up. It happens. In the first two games Italy and Norway had four shots on target and scored four goals, but that's the way football goes sometimes. We just never expected it to happen."
He did play in the final group game against hosts Israel, but the defeat mattered little as England had already been eliminated following defeats to Italy and the Norwegians - without scoring.
Steele, not due to return to club training until July 2, still learned a lot from his trip to the Middle East. He said: "Israel was more of a life experience than a football one. It was great being there and of course I love playing for my country, but by the time I played we were already out of the tournament which was a massive disappointment."
By the time Steele returns from his break, Middlesbrough are not expecting to have significantly added to the squad. Tony Mowbray, the manager, does hope to have more new faces in by the time they go to Portugal for a training camp next month.
Steele thinks getting the mood right in the next six weeks after such a depressing season could be key to bouncing back.
"We went on a bad run and it was hard to keep together and keep strong when we kept getting beat every week and nobody could explain why," said Steele.
"Our confidence was affected - no doubt about it. I don't care what level of football you are playing at, if you keep getting beat all the time it does affect you and it certainly affected the players.
"It was an experience alright, but you have to put all these experiences into a melting pot and gain from them. This season we have to start winning again and this time carry it on all the way to the finishing line."
* Former Middlesbrough midfielder Nicky Bailey, a free agent, is considering his options and is said to have Reading, Ipswich, Burnley, Blackburn, Bolton and Charlton interested in landing him.
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