McClaren fails to sign new deal but Boro back him to stay

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The Independent Football

The Middlesbrough chief executive, Keith Lamb, has backed Steve McClaren to turn around the team's fortunes after revealing that the manager's new contract remains unsigned. Lamb admitted during a radio phone-in that McClaren had not put pen to paper on his four-year deal, despite the club staging a press conference in November to confirm that he had.

Boro insist that only a "minor technical detail" which is "not an issue for either the club or Steve" is holding up the contract being signed, amid speculation that he could replace the England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson.

McClaren's stock has slipped in recent weeks, with Boro failing to win in their last nine Premiership games. Although he is being regarded nationally as one of the favourites for the top job, the feeling on Teesside is that he will be staying with Boro.

Lamb admits the manager has made errors during his four-and-a-half-year reign to date, but is confident he remains the right man for the club. "It is my judgement that Steve has made some mistakes - but everybody does," Lamb said. "He has also made some good decisions in the last four and a half years and we have had more good times than bad times.

"The club is at a low ebb, but we don't intend to panic. What we need to do is to pull together, circle the wagons and fight our way out of it. It was important what Steve said on Saturday, that we are in a relegation battle. Unless there is a realisation of that, then how are we going to address it?

"We didn't think we were in a transitional year, but it now seems that we are."

A 3-2 home defeat by Wigan at the weekend added to McClaren's woes. However, the match saw the return from long-term injuries of Stewart Downing and Ray Parlour, and Lamb insists the achievements under McClaren should not be forgotten.

"We haven't lost sight of the fact that this club has made tremendous strides," he said. "Last year, we finished seventh in the league. That's the highest we have ever finished in the Premiership, and we also reached the last 16 of the Uefa Cup.

"The problem we have got, because of the progress the club has made, is that everybody - including the chairman and the chief executive - has raised the bar.

"Last year, we signed four players in five weeks and people were asking me if we were going for the Champions' League. I said that the players would set the agenda - they finished seventh. We expected that with the players we brought in last summer, we could finish higher than seventh. It hasn't happened, but we are not trying to apportion responsibility or blame. We are trying to improve the position."

Szilard Nemeth's move to Strasbourg was finalised yesterday with the 28-year-old Slovakian poised to move until the end of the season, when his contract at Boro is due to expire. Nemeth made 146 appearances for Boro following his move from Inter Bratislava in July 2001, and could make his Strasbourg debut against Paris St-Germain this weekend.

"I have not played in a while, but I passed my medical and the results were good," he said. "I am ready to play against Paris on Saturday. I don't want to put myself under any extra pressure. I will do my best to rediscover my top level quickly. I know there is no time to waste, I just want to adapt fast and score fast too."

McClaren will have the promising full-back Tony McMahon back in contention soon as he made his comeback following a dislocated shoulder on Tuesday night. The 19-year-old played an hour of the 1-1 reserve-team draw with West Brom in his first game since August, and will now hope to push for a return to senior action.

McMahon emerged as a genuine talent last season but saw his hopes for the current campaign wrecked by his injury, which persuaded McClaren to make his ill-fated move for the former Portuguese international Abel Xavier as Michael Reiziger was allowed to return to the Netherlands.

The Teessiders' reserves trailed to Robert Earnshaw's header until the trialist Tom Watson equalised for Boro.