The Middlesbrough manager Steve McClaren headed for Stuttgart yesterday determined to go one better than last season in the Uefa Cup. The Teessiders made a good fist of their first European campaign before losing to eventual finalists Sporting Lisbon in the last 16 - and even then after a major battle in Portugal.
But having had a taste of it, they are desperate to go even further this time around, with crisis-club Stuttgart standing between them and a repeat of last year's achievement, with either Roma or FC Bruges waiting in the wings.
"It's two months since we last competed in the Uefa Cup, but we haven't forgotten what we are trying to achieve in this competition," McClaren said of tonight's first-leg match. "Last year, we were delighted to reach the last 16 before going out to a formidable Sporting Lisbon. This year, I want to go further. We go to Germany with a proud unbeaten run in this year's Uefa Cup and we are determined to maintain that record."
It was a fixture which Boro fans might have approached with some trepidation just a few weeks ago, with their side in the middle of a terrifying slump in the Premiership.
However, Saturday's 3-0 victory over reigning champions Chelsea, coupled with Stuttgart's decision to replace their manager Giovanni Trapattoni with Armin Veh, has renewed belief that the Teessiders could progress in the competition.
The winger Stewart Downing missed the opening skirmishes of the European campaign as he recovered from a knee ligament injury but, having seen his team-mates, keep clean sheets in their six European games to date, he is hopeful of further progress.
"I haven't played in Europe this season, so it's something I'm looking forward to," he said. "Stuttgart will be a tough test, but we are well capable of getting a result out there and bringing them back to our place for what could turn out to be an exciting second leg.
"Having reached the last 16 last year, we want to go further, and I think we are capable of doing that."
Boro travelled to Germany without their Australian striker Mark Viduka, who fell ill before the Chelsea game, as well as missing Spanish midfielder Gaizka Mendieta (hamstring) and James Morrison (knee and hip).
Viduka has not played for the club since a frank exchange of views with angry fans in the car park at the Riverside Stadium after the embarrassing 4-0 home defeat by Aston Villa earlier this month, although McClaren insists there is nothing sinister in his absence.
On a positive note, the Brazilian midfielder Fabio Rochemback, who turned in his best performance yet for the club against Chelsea, is available after missing the first half of the campaign because he had already played for his former club Sporting Lisbon in European competition.
The full-back Tony McMahon is included in the 20-man squad for the first time since dislocating his shoulder in August, while McClaren also handed a seat on the plane to the 19-year-old utility man Gary Liddle.Reuse content