McClaren targets early goal

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The Independent Football

"Score three goals, concede none," was Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's solution to Middlesbrough's Uefa Cup crisis, although even the famously cocky striker must feel like his team have an Alpine mountain to climb as they take on Basle at the Riverside stadium this evening.

Faced with the uneviable task of chipping away at a 2-0 deficit, sustained in three frantic first-half minutes last Thursday, Steve McClaren's thoughts will be momentarily distracted from the pursuit of the England manager's job as his team face an unfamiliar Uefa Cup dilemma. "If we score first, we can do it," McClaren said. "We can turn it around as we know we can score goals and we know we can create the chances."

Worryingly for the Middlesbrough manager, his team have hardly based their Uefa Cup progression on creating chances and scoring goals. Titanic defensive displays against Stuttgart and the competition favourites, Roma, saw the Teessiders progress to the quarter-finals, despite losing both away legs 2-1.

With their powerful 18-year-old midfield Lee Cattermole struggling to overcome an ankle injury, and Gaizka Mendieta and Emanuel Pogatetz injured, Boro will look to George Boateng to snap at Basle's heels. The Dutch international, suspended for the first leg, watched last week as his team fell behind to a long-range effort from the Argentinian Matias Delgado. Barely 90 seconds later David Degen raced past a static defence to add a second for the team managed by the former Tottenham manager Christian Gross.

"It showed that if you lose concentration for a split second in European football, you can be two down," McClaren said. "Although we have a mountain to climb, we are more than capable of doing that."

The Swiss team will provide stern opposition, however. Delgado tortured Boro's back line last week, although the return of their captain, Gareth Southgate, from illness should shore up the home side's defence.

The uncertain performance of the goalkeeper Pascal Zuberbuhler provided a glimmer of hope for the Teessiders, with the 35-year-old shot-stopper lucky to see efforts by Mendieta and Chris Riggott clip the bar in the first leg. With Zuberbuhler prone to flapping at crosses, Boro's wingers Stewart Downing and James Morrison will need to provide the aerial ammunition for the front pairing of Hasselbaink and Mark Viduka.

Hasselbaink believes Middlesbrough are unfortunate to go into tonight's game in such a difficult position. "We had a bad five minutes and were a bit unlucky," the 34-year-old said. "It was one of those days when we couldn't score."

However, McClaren is still optimistic about his team's chances. "If you are going to win a competition like this, there are times when you have to come through adversity," he said. The Middlesbrough's manager England credentials will be given an enormous boost if his side can overturn the odds tonight.

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