Boro banking on experience in UEFA Cup final
EINDHOVEN, Netherlands, May 9 (Reuters) Middlesbrough manager Steve McClaren is banking on his big-game players to lift the English side to a UEFA Cup final victory over Spain's Sevilla tomorrow.
The outgoing Boro coach, who will take over as England manager after the World Cup finals, attributes his side's spectacular run to the final to the experienced squad he has assembled at the Riverside in his five years in charge.
The provincial Premier League side, from England's north east, almost went out of business in 1986 and have only won one trophy, the 2004 League Cup, in their 130-year history.
''We have got a very experienced side, sprinkled with some very good youngsters,'' McClaren told a news conference today ahead of their first European final.
''We bought five or six experienced players when we got into Europe and I think that is why we have done so well. They are big game players, they like the big games.'' Two of those players, Mark Viduka and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, have weighed in with important goals but none have been as vital as those scored by forgotten frontman Massimo Maccarone.
SPECTACULAR COMEBACKS Boro have twice produced spectacular comebacks to reach the final, putting out Basel in the quarter-finals and Steaua Bucharest in the ast four when all seemed lost.
Italian Maccarone was the hero on both occasions, netting last-minute winners after coming on as substitute.
The bald frontman's exploits have rescued a career heading in to obscurity since a big-money move from Empoli four years ago, although he will not start against Sevilla.
''I always say that the hero of the evening may not be the one that starts the game but may be the one who finishes it,'' said McClaren.
''Maccarone has done that on two occasions, he is always there to do the same again.'' Boro keeper Mark Schwarzer is set to play in a protective mask, little more than two weeks after fracturing his cheekbone in the FA Cup semi-final defeat by West Ham United on April 23.
The Australia international will first have to be cleared by UEFA but this, McClaren said, should be a formality.
McClaren says a victory would be ''the icing on the cake'' but concedes, no doubt with more than a touch of psychology, that his side are underdogs to lift the trophy.
''Sevilla are favourites for the game, they have a good pedigree in Europe and doing very well in the Spanish league, we don't mind being underdogs, we will relish that.'' McClaren's relaxed demeanour is a far cry from earlier this year when by his own admission, Boro's season ''lay in tatters''.
A 7-0 mauling at Arsenal in January left moral low but it was a 4-0 home defeat by Aston Villa a month later that left fans calling for the coach's head.
Remarkably Boro bounced back to thrash champions Chelsea 3-0 just a week later and although their league form remained inconsistent, any thoughts of relegation were quickly dispelled.
''The players showed fantastic resilience. It's credit to the players that they have turned it around and they are going to finish it in a final and hopefully winning something.'' REUTERS PG KN1955