FOR the last 18 months Emmanuel Ledesma has had his moments at the Riverside Stadium. Rarely have his performances dictated to the man picking the team that he deserves to be in Middlesbrough's starting line-up.
Over the course of the last seven days, however, Aitor Karanka has seen glimpses of a South American forward more than capable of delivering on the Championship stage. The challenge now is to lead him to a level of consistency he has been unable to find so far.
After scoring the opener at Millwall seven days ago, Ledesma grabbed his chance to shine against Burnley on Boxing Day by not only scoring the winner but displaying the confidence to take players on and shoot regularly.
The 25-year-old – who has had spells at Walsall, QPR and Genoa – has embraced the opportunity to impress but feels he has always had the self-belief to deliver even if others have not shared his feelings.
Ledesma, expected to face Reading tomorrow, said: “Every day I have trained hard to get back in to the team, even if I have been on the bench, off the bench, in the team, in the stands. I have had to stay focused and be ready. I knew I would be ready because this is my work, my life, my job.
“I never got down because I always believed in me. I know I can play in this team. I know I can play football. I showed against Burnley that I can play well, I tried to shoot, to pass the ball and I believe that I can do it.
“It's been frustrating not to play. I have just had to keep working away and now I just want to enjoy my football again.”
Boxing Day was the first time this season Ledesma has started a Championship fixture and he is keen to ensure he stays in the team beyond the visit of Reading.
Karanka has shown faith in him so far and has been impressed with aspects of his game, specifically his willingness to beat a player and try his luck on goal.
But after his match-winning display over Burnley, the Middlesbrough head coach was quick to point out that he wants the Argentine to show greater teamwork out of possession.
Ledesma, who had scored a league goal for over a year until this week, said: “He told me I play good when I have the ball but I need to defend more when I don't. In training I will work harder on the defensive side of things. I want to learn and improve.
“The team has to work hard too and make sure we all keep improving together. I will keep shooting, passing to make this team better too.
“The first three/four games under the new manager I never played. I was not on the bench, I was not in the squad. I got my chance and it has helped me a little bit that the manager has spoken Spanish to me. I play because of the hard work I have put in, I believed in me. I live for the moment.”
Ledesma has not been the only member of the Middlesbrough squad over the last 12 months to have struggled to impress on the first team stage.
It is indicative of Middlesbrough's struggles over the last 12 months that it has taken until late December to record consecutive Championship victories.
But Karanka thinks there have been greater signs of progress in recent weeks and Ledesma feels Middlesbrough are shaped for a much improved up-coming 12 months.
The Middlesbrough winger said: “2013 has been a bad year, but it is almost finished. 2014 is a big chance for Boro now, we can all make improvements and grow together.
“It's a big chance for me, for the Middlesbrough team and family. It has been difficult in 2013. We might have won one game and then we would draw or lose. Now we have broken that bad record we can look forward.
“The Burnley win was big for us. We knew it was an important game for us because they were at the top of the table. I think it is a new era now, the tactics are different and we are all going in to games with different ideas.”