McClaren challenges Europe novices to sustain Boro's run

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Steve McClaren, the Middlesbrough manager, is challenging his European novices to make the most of their big week and continue a remarkable start to the season.

Steve McClaren, the Middlesbrough manager, is challenging his European novices to make the most of their big week and continue a remarkable start to the season.

Boro travelt to Villarreal in the Uefa Cup tomorrow knowing a point will be enough to qualify from the group stage and into the last 32 at the first attempt. The Teessiders warmed up for perhaps the toughest game of their campaign to date with a superb 2-0 win over Liverpool on Saturday, and have lost just one of their last 12 games in all competitions.

"It was an important win because it's a big week for this football club," said McClaren, whose side face Tottenham in the Premiership on Sunday.

"We've got a tough game on Thursday, we need to get a point. I've always said a minimum of four points from a three-game week and qualification in Europe would do nicely. We've started off the week well, we need to make sure we continue it."

Boro's achievements so far are all the more creditable because they have come without key players such as Michael Reiziger, Ugo Ehiogu and Gaizka Mendieta through injury.

The quality of newcomers Ray Parlour, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Mark Viduka, as well as established stars Gareth Southgate, Franck Queudrue, George Boateng and Bolo Zenden, has shone through, but it is the emergence of youngsters Chris Riggott, Tony McMahon, Stewart Downing and James Morrison which has proved a wonderful bonus.

McClaren admits he would not have blooded the likes of McMahon and Morrison yet in an ideal world, but the full-back's form, and that of Riggott, who has made the most of Ehiogu's absence to form a fine partnership with Southgate, were key against Liverpool.

"You look at Tony McMahon and I thought that was as mature a performance as I've seen from a 17 or 18-year-old, or you'll ever see," he said. "He was fantastic. Chris Riggott has slotted in there, he's consistently playing well now and deserved his goal, and, of course, you've got the experience of Southgate."

The full-back Reiziger, meanwhile, has stepped up his bid for a first-team return by completing his first game since the opening day of the season.

The 31-year-old Dutch international played the whole of Monday night's reserve team 0-0 draw at Wolves, his second appearance since returning from shoulder surgery.

Reiziger has little chance of being involved the Uefa Cup clash with Villarreal or the match against Spurs. Manchester City and Southampton next month may come too early for a man who aggravated an existing injury on 22 August at Arsenal.

However, his return will come as a boost to McClaren despite the emergence of McMahon. The 18-year-old has deputised superbly for the former Barcelona defender and natural under-study Stuart Parnaby in the wake of their respective injuries.

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