Football: Nationwide League - Merson on frontline

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The Independent Online
Paul Merson may form a potent new front-line combination with Fabrizio Ravanelli as Middlesbrough combat an industrious Stoke side at the Riverside Stadium today.

Merson, a pounds 5m summer signing from Arsenal, forged a role with the Gunners and England as a midfielder playing behind the front two, but he started at Highbury as a striker, scoring 14 goals in their 1989 championship- winning campaign. His skills may be needed to turn around a disappointing start to Boro's First Division campaign.

Assistant manager, Viv Anderson, refused to be drawn on the potential pairing of Merson and Ravanelli, but with Clayton Blackmore out with an ankle injury and the defender Vladimir Kinder on World Cup duty with Slovakia, Anderson admits Boro will need their expensive signings to be at their best to beat Stoke.

He said: "Our players had a rude awakening in the first half against Charlton, and Bryan [Robson, the manager] and I were very disappointed with their performance even though we won the game."

Stoke's former striker Mark Stein will be looking for a fresh start now he is back in the First Division. The Chelsea striker, who last played for the Premiership club in November 1995, begins a two-month loan spell with Ipswich at Bradford.