McClaren optimistic Boro can stun Roma

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The Independent Online

Steve McClaren, the Middlesbrough manager, wants his players to send shockwaves around Europe by knocking Roma out of the Uefa Cup in their last-16 tie starting tonight.

The Serie A side arrive on Teesside defending a 16-game unbeaten run but having seen their record run of 11 successive League victories brought to an end by a home draw with Internazionale on Sunday.

Luciano Spalletti's side are favourites to progress to the quarter-finals despite the absence of their injured strikers Francesco Totti and Vincenzo Montella, and suspended midfielder Daniele De Rossi. However, McClaren pointed to Middlesbrough's 2-0 dismissal of Roma's city rivals Lazio during last season's Uefa Cup run to back up his optimistic outlook.

"I think it would be a real shock to European football," said McClaren. "They have only been beaten once in the last four months and go in as huge favourites. But last season, us beating Lazio was a real shock in Italy and Middlesbrough has become well-known since then.

"They will be fearing us, they won't enjoy or relish a trip here, or us going away, because we are capable of doing that after beating Stuttgart. We have gained a certain respect throughout European football, and that's what we take into this game."

Middlesbrough have won seven of their last nine games in all competitions to placate their critics to an extent after finding themselves flirting with relegation following last month's 4-0 defeat to Aston Villa at the Riverside Stadium.

McClaren admits Middlesbrough are currently far from their best. However, having seen them beat the cream of the Premiership on Teesside this season, he is promising Roma a tough evening.

"We respect Roma, we know they are a very good team, but we know on our day we are capable of beating anybody, especially at the Riverside," he said. "We have beaten Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea here, and we need another performance like that to get by Roma.

"I want them to go in and give the kind of performance we have had against the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea."

Steve Gibson, the Middlesbrough chairman, has been forced to stare at banks of empty seats at the Riverside on European nights so far this season, but he is hoping for a big response from the fans for their biggest test to date.

"The last four or five years have been pure theatre for this football club," Gibson said. "We seem to keep on having our biggest game ever, with the prospect of every one being more exciting and bigger than the last.

"It would be hard to imagine a more exciting challenge than the one we face against a Roma side that is absolutely flying in Serie A," he added.

McClaren hopes to welcome back the winger Stewart Downing from injury and his in-form striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink from illness, although he faces a choice between youngsters Andrew Davies and Tony McMahon for the right-back spot after Stuart Parnaby was ruled out for four weeks with a hamstring strain.

While a win would send Middlesbrough to the Olympic Stadium next Wednesday evening brimming with confidence, the manager believes keeping a clean sheet tonight is key.

"First leg, clean sheet and you are always in with a chance in the second," McClaren said.

Middlesbrough (from): Schwarzer, Jones, Davies, McMahon, Southgate, Riggott, Ehiogu, Bates, Boateng, Doriva, Downing, Mendieta, Cattermole, Parlour, Johnson, Kennedy, Yakubu, Hasselbaink, Viduka, Maccarone.

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