Chance to make Boro history excites Southgate

One way or another, the Carling Cup final in Cardiff on 29 February is destined for a place in the record books. The morning after Middlesbrough's semi-final victory against Arsenal, the talk on Teesside yesterday was of Steve McClaren's men making history when they run out to face Bolton Wanderers at the Millennium Stadium.

It could yet be the Bolton manager Sam Allardyce, though, who makes a momentous mark in the Welsh capital.

Middlesbrough's double-barrelled semi-final success against Arsène Wenger's young Gunners - 1-0 at Highbury, 2-1 at the Riverside - means an English manager is destined to lift one of the three major domestic trophies for the first time in eight years. The feat was last achieved by Brian Little in 1996, when Savo Milosevic set Aston Villa on the way to a 3-0 win against Leeds United in the Wembley final of what was then known as the Coca Cola Cup.

Gareth Southgate, the man who will lead out McClaren's side in Cardiff, was one of Little's helpers in a team captained by Andy Townsend that day. So was Ugo Ehiogu, who will be alongside Southgate at the heart of the Middlesbrough defence in this year's final if he recovers from a groin injury.

"It will be very special to lead out Boro in the final," Southgate said yesterday. "I've not been to Cardiff for a final and everybody who has been there tells me it's a magnificent atmosphere and a fantastic stadium. We're as close as we can be to lifting some silverware. That's obviously the focus for us, but it's going to be tough.

"We're playing a very good team who, on their day, can beat anybody in the country. It would be fantastic to win it, but I'm not going to start dreaming about it yet."

Such caution is understandable for a Middlesbrough captain. The Teessiders reached the finals of the League Cup and the FA Cup in 1997 and of the League Cup again in 1998 but their wait for a major trophy continues.

They did win the Anglo Scottish Cup under Jack Charlton in November 1975, after a goalless second-leg draw against Fulham at Craven Cottage. The Middlesbrough goalkeeper, Jim Platt, felt too embarrassed to join a lap of honour. "I went straight to the dressing room," he recalled.

That aside, Middlesbrough's last cup success of any note came back in 1898, when they won the Amateur Cup for the second time in three years. Upon their return from Crystal Palace, the victorious team were paraded through the streets of the town by what contemporary Victorian reports described as "a gay brass band".

A triumphant return from Cardiff would trumpet not just the need for a trophy cabinet at the Riverside Stadium but also Middlesbrough's arrival on the authentic European stage. They have yet to play in mainstream continental competition, though they are veterans of the Anglo-Italian Cup. Their last tie was a 3-1 defeat in Ancona in November 1994 which attracted 1,500 spectators.

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