By Tom Harle
JONNY Howson joined Middlesbrough to get back in the Premier League – and he hasn’t given up on achieving promotion in his first season at the club.
Boro have been firmly entrenched among the Championship’s top ten, but consistency continues to elude Tony Pulis’ men as they seek a top-flight return at the first attempt.
Yet they headed into the weekend in eighth place in the table, just three points off the play-offs.
Howson, now in his 13th season in the game, reckons the Teessiders still have it in them to secure a top-six finish.
“We’ve still got something to play for and the season is still in our hands,” he said. “Time is running out, but we’ve still got some very tough games to come against teams that we can potentially knock out of the top six. They can sometimes be the difference.
“I set out with the aim of promotion at the start of the season. I came believing we were one of the favourites to get into the Premier League.
“There’s still a possibility and we’ll be doing everything we can to get back there.”
The hard-working midfielder made more than a century of appearances for Norwich in the top-flight and has promotion pedigree after being part of the side that won the 2014-15 Championship play-off final – against his current club.
For some, returning to former clubs can be a traumatic experience but the opposite is true for Howson, who signed in the summer for £7m.
He went back to Carrow Road for the first time in January, receiving a warm reception, akin to the welcome he received in two previous appearances at boyhood club Leeds.
The 29-year-old suggests his industrious attitude has helped win the long-term affections of supporters.
“The reception I got coming off the bench at Norwich was a nice touch. Moments like that can mean more than what happens on the pitch,” Howson said.
“It’s something I appreciate and will stay in the memory for a long time.
“As a fan growing up, I judged players not on their quality but the effort they put in.
“If people don’t rate me as a player, that’s their opinion. But I’d like to think in every game I give the fans everything.”
If fans revere effort, it’s nothing short of a religion for Boro boss Pulis.
The Welshman’s first ten games in charge, heading into yesterday’s derby with Sunderland, had yielded four clean sheets, with defensive backbone stiffened.
And Howson says it’s easy to accede to Pulis’ demands given what he’s achieved in the game.
“There was instant respect from all the lads when Tony came in with where his experience has got him,” he said. “When he’s telling you something, it’s in the back of your mind that it has to be right, given what he’s achieved.
“The manager asked the players to give him everything in the first meeting and everyone has done that.
“There are no ifs, buts or maybes with Tony. He tells you what he wants, so when you go out on the pitch you’re clear exactly what is being asked of you.”
A Leeds fan from birth, Howson skippered the Whites at the age of 20, becoming their youngest captain since Billy Bremner. He led them out of League One in 2010 under Simon Grayson.
The midfielder is a passionate advocate for Grayson, newly installed as Bradford manager.
“At League One level, Simon’s record says it all,” he said. “I’ve only got good words to say about Simon and I had a great, successful time under him.
“Bradford are in and around the play-offs and if there’s anyone that can keep them up there, I’m sure it’s him.”