McClaren backing Jinky
By Graeme Bailey. Last Updated: January 1, 1970 1:00am
Steve McClaren is backing Adam Johnson to follow in the footsteps of Stewart Downing.
The 18-year-old, nicknamed Jinky after Scottish legend Jimmy Johnstone, is the latest product of Boro's highly acclaimed academy.
He made his Premiership debut earlier this season, but he sparkled during Boro's 2-0 Uefa Cup win over Litex Lovech on Thursday.
With Downing sidelined until early next month with his knee injury, McClaren is being urged to push the England youth international into a more pivotal first team role.
"Jinky's a waif of a lad," he said.
"We need to nurture him properly and we're doing that. It would have been a mistake and might have ruined him early on, if we'd kept playing him.
"He's progressed very well in the reserves and trains every day with the first team, and on Thursday, he was given the opportunity to see how far he's come, and he showed flashes of the player he's going to be in the future.
"What I've seen happen with young players is they come into first-team squad, have a taste of it and then, through natural causes, drop out and you never see them again.
"That's one thing we don't want to see happen with Adam or any of our youngsters."
Johnson's progress was one reason behind a renewed link between Tottenham Hotspur - Boro's opponents on Sunday - and Downing.
McClaren has already insisted that Downing is not for sale and he insists Spurs' summer interest was just posturing on their behalf.
"Spurs were just flexing their muscles and showing what they were trying to achieve and trying to do," McClaren said.
"There was no way we would let him go. We are building a club here and to lose our best young players would be criminal."
McClaren, though, is an admirer of Tottenham.
"I like the way they have progressed," he continued.
"When you look at top four, they are way out with their resources and investment they have made.
"But the two teams behind them, Spurs and Newcastle, they have the resources to be challenging for a top-four spot. Spurs have taken that on and are in the top four at moment."