McClaren faces Sky Blues with sunnier hopes

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The Independent Football

Steve McClaren, the Middlesbrough manager, said yesterday how determined he was to turn around the club's fortunes now that he appears to have inherited the pressure that was on Graeme Souness.

Just days after Souness was sacked as Newcastle manager, the first man to bring a major trophy to the Riverside found himself the new centre of attention in the North-east after Saturday's 4-0 home defeat by Aston Villa. McClaren and the club's chairman, Steve Gibson, were confronted by angry fans after Boro's capitulation at the Riverside Stadium which left them with real relegation worries.

Tonight's FA Cup fourth- round replay against Championship side Coventry City is largely immaterial in that light, although McClaren is steeling himself for another battle to win over his supporters.

That is something he had to do within weeks of his arrival in 2001 when he lost his first four games in charge, a run which sparked a comment of "pointless and clueless" which remains fresh in his mind.

"You could understand," he said. "They were my first four games in management and I lost them all, and I was wondering myself whether I was pointless and clueless. But since then, I've had many more experiences, good and bad. I know that eventually, as they say, the sun will shine again and there will be better days.

"Everybody goes through this, it's how you come through it," he insisted. "I'm determined to come through it, I'm determined to fight my way through it, I'm determined to bring the players with me and fight anybody until we do."

It is only a matter of weeks since McClaren was being regarded as one of the favourites to succeed Sven Goran Eriksson as England coach after this summer's World Cup finals.

But ironic chants of "McClaren for England" from his own club's fans during the Villa game are a measure of how far his stock has fallen since. However, he insists he will not allow the criticism to get to him.

"I don't read a newspaper at these times and I try not to let it affect me, because you can't," he said. "We are doing the same things we have always done for the last four and a half years, that I have always done in my coaching career.

"We are working on the basics and working damn hard on that training field to put things right, and we will keep doing that until we turn it around. We have to. I have to take responsibility, but I have to be positive, I have to be optimistic, and I see the likes of [George] Boateng and [James] Morrison and [Chris] Riggott and [Franck] Queudrue and [Fabio] Rochemback, five players we didn't have last week, and I see them training this week.

"It lifts the gloom and it gives you hope. We have got players coming back, but while they are, the rest of us have to stand up and take responsibility, be big enough to accept that we are in a professional game and we have to act like professionals and get on with it."

McClaren has not been aided by reported comments from the former Boro midfielder Jonathan Greening, suggesting widespread unrest in the dressing-room.

"It disappoints me because Jonathan Greening was, I thought, a very good football player for this club," he said. "We brought him in from Manchester United reserves and gave him an opportunity in the Premier League. He did very well and was always a great lad around the place, a great pro to work with, a delight, a nice lad. I haven't read the comments, but obviously I've heard, and it disappoints me."

McClaren also dismissed reports that the Dutch midfielder Boateng has signed a new four-and-a-half-year deal worth £10.5m and that there had been unrest in the dressing-room as a result.

Although McClaren admitted that talks were close to a conclusion, he insisted that the contract would be worth nowhere near that amount, and that whatever the figures involved, the rest of the squad would be delighted to see him put pen to paper.

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