EMMANUEL LEDESMA is hoping Danny Graham returns to Middlesbrough next season to spearhead a renewed push for promotion to the Premier League.
Graham made the final appearance of his loan spell from Sunderland at the weekend, scoring one goal and setting up another as Boro cruised to a 4-1 win over Yeovil.
The 28-year-old still has two years of his Sunderland contract to run, but Black Cats boss Gustavo Poyet has shown little interest in offering him a future at the Stadium of Light, and his parent club's likely survival in the Premier League has hampered his chances of making a new start on Wearside.
Given that he is on lucrative wages, a permanent move to a Championship side is unlikely, although he could remain on Sunderland's books and move on a season-long loan in August.
Whether Middlesbrough would be interested in such a proposition remains to be seen, but having played and trained alongside Graham in the last four months, Ledesma is confident the North-Easterner is more than capable of making a major impact for the club next season.
“We would love for Danny to stay,” he said. “It is very difficult because he is a Premier League player and I am sure, deep down, he would love to be playing in the Premier League.
“But we have needed a striker who plays like he does, and he has been really important for us. He always works very hard, he links really well with the other attackers and midfielders, and he knows how to score.
“Hopefully, he stays, and if he does that, it will make a big difference to us. I think him staying would give us a much better chance of winning promotion next season.”
Saturday's victory meant Boro ended the season eight points adrift of a play-off spot, and bridging that gap will be the major target when a new campaign begins in early August.
Since Karanka arrived in November, Boro have won 13 and drawn nine of their 31 games, picking up 48 points from a possible 93. Extrapolate that ratio over a whole season, and you end up with a finishing total of 71.2 points, which would have left the Teessiders halfway between sixth and seventh.
There has definitely been improvements under the Spaniard, and Ledesma feels a tweak to Boro's playing style has made them a more attractive and effective team.
“There are a lot of positives to take into next season,” he said. “I think we try to play a little bit more football under the new manager. We play with the ball a lot more. I enjoy that, and I think it gives us a big chance for next season.
“We have a very good manager, good staff and some important players. That gives us a big possibility to move forward next season and go into the Premier League.”