Steve McClaren, the Middlesbrough manager, has refused to accept accusations of arrogance directed at his team. On the contrary, he said yesterday, he fears that complacency could undermine his side's Uefa Cup challenge.
Boro will look to take their place in the last 16 by seeing off the Austrian champions, Graz AK, at the Riverside tonight after last week's 2-2 draw in the first leg. Before the return tie, though, the Graz captain, Anton Ehmann, has criticised McClaren's side for the arrogant attitude they displayed at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium, and maintains they are not a team to fear.
McClaren is understandably cautious, particularly after seeing his players twice throw away the lead in Graz, which is why he is demanding total focus throughout the game. After sitting through videos of Graz's 1-0 victory at Anfield in a Champions' League qualifier against Liverpool at the start of the season, McClaren also knows there is no room for a complacent attitude either.
"I don't think we gave Graz any lack of respect while we were there," McClaren said. "I think you saw from the result, there was a great amount of respect for them and for what they can do. They scored two goals against us and anyone who can do that has to be respected. They also beat Liverpool 1-0 at Anfield, so we know it's going to be a tough return.
"There's no complacency from our players, and if there is, we will knock it out straight away. It is the most dangerous thing of all in football, but you could see the focus last week, and they've certainly got it this week and I expect to see it come out tomorrow.
"The key for us is that we need to defend better than we did. We lost concentration at vital times, which disappointed me because that is number one when you play in Europe.
"You can't switch off because you get punished, and we got punished twice last week. There was nearly a third goal in the last minute which would have been a disaster. But the goals were down to simple errors and lack of concentration, which is something you can work on, and is something we have been doing."
Boro face a battle with the elements, as further heavy snowfall is forecast for the North-east tonight. In conjunction with Middlesbrough Borough Council, groundstaff at The Riverside have already cleared 20 tonnes of snow, and were working round the clock yesterday to ensure that the match goes ahead.
Although the pitch is protected by a giant plastic sheet under which two generators blow a constant stream of hot air, the main problem - as has often been the case in the past - are the pathways and access roads around the ground. Graz were due to train at the stadium last night, but were prevented from doing so by Boro in order to keep the pitch in prime condition. Instead they were diverted to a local venue close to the town.
"We're doing everything possible for the game to be on," added McClaren, who is likely to make one change to his side, with striker Joseph-Desiré Job replacing midfielder Doriva as he deploys a more attacking formation. "We've been down to the stadium this morning and there's so much work going on, but I'm confident the game will be on. The pitch will be fit. It's just how much snow there is around the stadium and whether they can clear it away because safety is the biggest thing.
"Unfortunately, because of the weather we've not been able to prepare on grass and go outside on to a pitch, which we would have wanted to, and that's been difficult.
"We're fortunate that the indoor facilities we have are excellent, so we have got some training in. But Graz have had their problems too. Their game at the weekend was called off, so they've not been able to train on grass and can't train at the stadium because it is unfit. It's been the same for both sides, so there are no excuses."
McClaren remains without a number of key players, with Mark Viduka and George Boateng potentially two weeks away from a return, while Gaizka Mendieta, Ugo Ehiogu and Malcolm Christie are long-term absentees.Reuse content