HE didn’t get off to the best start under Aitor Karanka, but fit-again Jason Steele is desperate to prove himself to the Middlesbrough head coach after returning from injury.
Steele has spent the last three months on the sidelines after suffering ankle ligament damage with the goalkeeper’s last appearance coming in Karanka’s first game in charge against Leeds United.
However, his attempts to impress his new boss couldn’t have gone any worse. The 23-year-old lasted only 43 minutes at Elland Road after being sent off for bringing down Dexter Blackstock, and having recovered from a thigh injury prior to that game, he then suffered the ankle injury which would keep him out until now.
Karanka brought in the experienced Shay Given on loan in Steele’s absence, but Aston Villa rejected Boro’s attempts to pro-long his stay until the end of the season, meaning the Boro boss now has a decision to make over who will start in goal at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday.
Having declared himself 100 per cent fit, Steele is certainly the front runner to reclaim the number one spot at the weekend, but with Tomas Mejias Osorio having joined from Real Madrid, the former England Under-21 keeper faces plenty of competition.
Dimi Konstantopoulos, Jayson Leutwiler and Connor Ripley are also battling to impress and Steele believes the competition for places can only benefit the side.
“I didn’t get off to the best of starts under the new manager,” Steele said. “I tore my groin in the first couple of weeks building up to the Leeds game, he had hardly seen me training. Hopefully I can now show what I am capable of. I am 100 per cent fully fit.
“I have been back a lot quicker than expected, I was back training two and a half weeks ago. I am pleased to be at this stage now, I’m ready.
“Against Charlton I came off after 75 minutes, the scans were done then and it showed I had ruptured a tendon. I had a little jab and it eased down a bit. After getting sent off against Leeds, I had ruptured the ligaments so there was no other option than to get it sorted.
“There is big competition from Tomas, Dimi (Konstantopoulos) and even Jayson (Leutwiler) and Connor (Ripley) as well. There are five of us and each and every one of us will think we should play.
“Whoever the manager picks we have to be ready. We are all good lads and we help each other out. If we think we can help each other we do. We have not had good competition here for a while and that should help the team.”
Given kept ten clean sheets in 16 appearances during his three-month loan stint at the Riverside, and Steele admits being able to train alongside the former Republic of Ireland international was great for the other goalkeepers at the club.
He said: “I only got to train with him the last few weeks, he was one of my boyhood idols when I was growing up. He was top dog and he surprised people when he was that good – still – at 37-years-old.
“It shows that when you are that experienced you can play at any level. To have Shay in for the two weeks I was in, he was a great lad as well and good to be around.”
Middlesbrough will attempt to end their six-game goal drought at Hillsborough, a run which has seen the Teessiders lose ground on the play-off places.
Steele admits it has been difficult to watch during his injury, but insists there is still a belief amongst the squad that they can mount a late challenge for a top-six finish.
“It’s never nice to get injured,” said Steele. “It was a nasty injury which required an operation. I am more nervous watching so I have struggled to watch them. Hopefully we can pick up again and have a late charge up the league.
“I was speaking to Leo our keeper coach. He said there were 14 games and he said if you win them all you are in the play-offs. I think we can win 14 games. There’s no point believing we can’t. We might as well keep thinking it. Why go into games thinking we can’t win.”
“We have always been a good set of lads. At the start of the season we scored loads and conceded loads and it’s pretty much the opposite. That’s what happens in football, it swings in roundabouts. The manager has trimmed the squad down and that has helped because there is a tighter group now.”