Tuesday, January 17, 2006
McClaren admits heat is on ahead of Nuneaton replay
Middlesbrough manager Steve McClaren admits the pressure is on as his side heads into tonight's must-win FA Cup third-round replay against non-league Nuneaton Borough.
Boro are without a win in six attempts in all competitions, a run which
culminated in Saturday's 7-0 Premiership drubbing at Arsenal on the
back of an embarrassing 1-1 draw with the Conference North side seven days
Injuries have decimated McClaren's squad as a season which promised so much
has turned rapidly to dust, and he knows continuing indifferent form could
result in the pressure being heaped upon him and his players.
'Everybody will say and everybody will speculate that every game now is a
significant part of the season, because it is,'' he said.
'We have to win tonight. We want a good cup run and we have to make sure we
win this game, and then we move on to Wigan. It's a big period for us at this
The defeat at Highbury, coupled with West Brom's win at Wigan a day later,
left the Teessiders sitting uncomfortably one place above the relegation zone.
Continuing speculation over England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson and the
implications for McClaren and Boro are complicating matters, but the manager
insists he is concentrating on nothing other than his club and their current
He was forced to field a team in which six teenagers played some part at the
weekend and will again have to rely on several of them, with 11 men - including
important trio Gareth Southgate, George Boateng and Franck Queudrue plus star
winger Stewart Downing - unavailable and James Morrison struggling with a hip
Saturday's experience proved a shattering one for several of the youngsters,
including goalkeeper Brad Jones, who made a series of fine saves but still had
to pick the ball out of the back of his net on seven occasions.
However, McClaren is confident they will ultimately all be better players for
it, and is looking for an immediate response tonight.
'I said to all the youngsters after the game, they are going to be great
players, they are going to have careers in football and in football you are
going to get hits,'' he said.
'They have had a big hit at a young age, but I think it will only make them
better players. If they come through it, it will improve their character.
'No-one likes to be beaten, but it's character-building for them. They have
got 10, 15 years ahead of them, they are going to be good players - they have
proved that already - and Saturday's experience, although it hurts at the time,
will make them better players in the future.
'Brad Jones is one of them. Despite conceding seven goals, he made some great
saves as well. He's going to be a very, very good goalkeeper.''
Nuneaton deservedly earned their trip to the north-east with a last-minute
penalty, and McClaren knows his side can take nothing for granted.
'The game is tougher than when we looked at it on Thursday or Friday last
week, purely because of the confidence of the players after that defeat,'' he
'It might be a difficult game for us. It's 11 v 11, and in the FA Cup,
anything can happen. We have got to make sure it doesn't happen to us.'