McClaren sidelines England talk as Middlesbrough aim for final

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The Independent Online

Steve McClaren says he has not been affected by the England management saga as he prepares for the biggest match of his career so far.

McClaren will lead Middlesbrough into tonight's Uefa Cup semi-final second leg against Steaua Bucharest at the Riverside having occupied most of the back pages for several weeks. But, he said, England has simply not been on his agenda.

"This speculation, the hype about England and about Middlesbrough, I've lived with this for five years," he said. "It's heightened now, obviously, because of the vacancy, but there's no added pressure, there are no distractions. It doesn't affect me at all."

It will take a large effort, even for a Boro side who produced an a superb fightback to squeeze past Basle in the last round. Although the Teessiders trail only 1-0, they showed enough at the Lia Manoliu Stadium last week to demonstrate they will be a major threat.

Steaua, who were European champions 20 years ago, will be without suspended duo Banel Nicolita and Sorin Paraschiv, but they could recall striker Victorias Iakob after his return from long-term injury.

McClaren, meanwhile, will give Brad Jones the task of deputising for goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, who fractured his cheekbone in the FA Cup semi-final defeat to West Ham on Sunday. However, it could once again be his strikers who could prove the difference between success and failure.

Mark Viduka, who has missed the last two games with a thigh problem, is back in training. Although McClaren hinted publicly that Viduka may not start, he is privately confident that the Australian will be able to play some role in the game.

McClaren said: "We have worked so hard, not just this season, but every season we have been here to get to this situation. It was disappointing to miss one opportunity on Sunday, but to be perfectly honest, to make a European final, to actually get this far, is a fantastic achievement.

"But we are not satisfied with that, we want to go one step further and make sure we get into that final because that would be such a great profile for this club."

Gareth Southgate will be a key figure, and McClaren has dismissed talk of unrest in the squad after the Boro captain suggested in an interview at the weekend that, among other things, his manager was not yet ready for the England job.

McClaren said: "I haven't seen them [Southgate's comments]. Somebody made me aware of that and Gareth did, and I just said, 'It's not an issue'.

"I've not read it, I don't want to read it. We know what we have in this football club, the relationship I have with Gareth and what he brings to this football club. Nothing comes between that and us wanting to win football matches."