Downing's time will come soon, says McClaren

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Steve McClaren will have quietly cursed. That one flourish of West Bromwich Albion chairman Jeremy Peace's signature had transformed this afternoon's contest at the Hawthorns from one of extra-vagant promise for his side into one where the opposition - not to mention their new manager - had much to prove.

Steve McClaren will have quietly cursed. That one flourish of West Bromwich Albion chairman Jeremy Peace's signature had transformed this afternoon's contest at the Hawthorns from one of extra-vagant promise for his side into one where the opposition - not to mention their new manager - had much to prove.

Suddenly, with the second coming of Bryan Robson, a mundane encounter has assumed significant proportions, with Robson and his assistant, Nigel Pearson, pitted against their former club in their first game.

As McClaren reflected: "Bryan's arrival is bound to make a difference to West Brom. He'll be under huge pressure and there'll be lots of expectations, but the adrenalin will be really pumping through his new players and it will definitely be a different sort of game."

He added: "Football needs people like Bryan in management. He put this club on the European and world map by buying Juninho, Emerson, Ravanelli and others, and laid great foundations for me."

Though Boro still possess their exotica, these days it is balanced by young, home-produced performers, epitomised by Stewart Downing, who was thrust into the public arena following a sumptuous goal at Manchester United's Stretford End this season. Partly by dint of a talent that belies his 20 years, but principally because he is blessed with a left foot that beguiles opponents, he has emerged on the periphery of England selection.

For the moment, probably because of the protestations of his manager who, wearing his England No 2 hat, counselled Sven Goran Eriksson against the winger's inclusion in the squad for Wednesday's friendly against Spain, he is confined to the Under-21 squad. But it is only a question of time before Eriksson insists on scrutinising Downing in the senior environment. The Swede understands that unearthing a gifted left-sided midfielder is as unlikely as an article failing to remark on his own peccadillos.

"Stewart has been fantastic, outstanding for us this season," McClaren said. "But all the hype has been a little premature. We're so desperate for a left-footer that anyone who can kick a ball with their left foot without falling over is hyped as 'the answer'. But if he keeps doing well he'll get his chance with England."

The Boro manager added: "I've seen so many players put in the spotlight young and they get carried away with it and never make it. Stewart's attitude is excellent, though. Despite the hype and speculation surrounding him, he knows he still needs to keep improving. Having players like Gareth Southgate around him here is good for him."

Robson would probably have preferred Downing to have had the senior call-up. The prospect of facing Spain could have proved a distracting influence for the Middles-brough-born player. Instead, after an indifferent exhibition against Liverpool in midweek, he will be determined to convince Eriksson and his club manager that they will regret their caution.

Curiously, though today's encounter is between Albion and Boro, so many paths lead back to Manchester United - Robson, McClaren and West Brom's former Boro midfielder Jonathan Greening, to name but three. In the case of Mark Schwarzer, though, the future may direct him towards Old Trafford.

The goalkeeper, who bridges the management tenures of both Robson and McClaren, and was brought to the Riverside by the former, has failed to conclude a new contract with Boro. Rumours have suggested that a move to Old Trafford may be in the offing, and the Australian international admitted: "It's always nice to hear that speculation when it's linking you a club the size of Man United." However, for the moment, a triumph against his old manager's new club is his priority.

Schwarzer readily countered some of the more mischievous accusations made against Robson, claiming: "I don't think there was a drink culture, but when performances on the pitch aren't there, people start to look for excuses." He added: "Bryan's a major reason why I came here. He got a lot of criticism towards the end of his time here. I thought it was totally unjustified but it's obviously affected a lot of people's view of him, which is why he's been out of football for so long."

Schwarzer, like many others at Boro, will welcome the return from the wilderness of Robson - once victory has been secured today.

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