Middlesbrough 0 Everton 1: Future looks rosy for Boro with or without McClaren

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The Independent Football

Middlesbrough boss Steve McClaren is again likely to ring the changes as his side's hectic build-up to the UEFA Cup final continues.

The depth of McClaren's squad is being tested with Boro required to cram four Barclays Premiership fixtures into the space of nine days before switching their attention to the glamour clash with Sevilla.

The first of those games came yesterday, less than 48 hours after Thursday's sensational triumph over Steaua Bucharest, as Everton visited the Riverside Stadium.

McClaren made nine changes and the youthful side he put out looked set to claim a creditable point until James McFadden elegantly struck in the 89th minute to secure Everton's first win in seven.

There is now no time to dwell on that result, with a trip to Manchester United tomorrow followed by Bolton on Wednesday and Fulham next Sunday.

McClaren said: "It will be a completely different team at Old Trafford and we'll have to see after that about Bolton."

Mark Viduka, Massimo Maccarone, Chris Riggott - the goal heroes against Steaua - George Boateng, Franck Queudrue, Fabio Rochemback, Stuart Parnaby and Stewart Downing could all come back into contention after being rested following their European exploits.

Gareth Southgate and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink were also left out due to hamstring problems and are likely to be given more time to recover with the May 10 final in Eindhoven in mind.

McClaren's youngsters gave a creditable showing against Everton and had the better of the first half.

They could even have claimed a result had recalled top scorer Aiyegbeni Yakubu not spurned a number of opportunities.

The game was far more mundane than Thursday's offering but McClaren was nevertheless pleased with the performance, despite the result.

He hopes a number of the youngsters - there were eight past or present Academy players on the field at the final whistle - go on to have fine careers at the top level but he is not getting carried away yet.

McClaren said: "Hopefully in two, three or four years the core of the team will be what you've seen out there.

"They are too young at the present moment, they are gaining great experience but how far they can go it's too early to tell.

"They go through a honeymoon period but when they get a few more knocks, that's when you find out their full potential."

The victory came as a great relief for Everton - who upped the tempo considerably in the closing stages - after failing to win since their 4-1 hammering of Aston Villa on March 18.

McFadden's goal also ended a long barren run in front of goal, the Toffees having failed to score in their four previous games.

The Scot finished beautifully from outside the area as he raced onto a long ball and coolly lobbed the onrushing Brad Jones.

Everton assistant manager Alan Irvine said of the drought: "It was too long. Strangely enough we had been scoring goals before this run, but it's been a long wait. Obviously it was very welcome when it came.

"We were getting closer and after a very poor first-half performance I felt as the game went on we looked more likely to score, although Boro did have that very good chance with Yakubu.

"It was vitally important to win. We started with a poor run, the last thing we want to do is finish with a poor run."

Irvine also paid tribute to Middlesbrough, admitting he was impressed by the side McClaren fielded.

He said: "I was at the game on Thursday night and it was absolutely tremendous.

"I also admire the fact they were able to field a completely different team. We wouldn't be in a position to do that.

"What we had out there was everyone who was available.

"They were able to put out a completely different team of players who have played in the Premiership before. You have to admire what they have done behind the scenes."

The downside for Everton was the loss of goalkeeper Richard Wright through injury in the second half after a collision with Malcolm Christie. He was replaced by Iain Turner.

"He's got a bad cut just below his knee and there is no way he could have continued," Irvine said.

"It's very deep and it's in a place where every time he moves it'll open up.

"We've just got to hope it will knit together in the next few days, but if not it will give young Iain another chance."

REF'S REPORT: Lee Mason handled what was only his third Premiership game very well, allowing an at times dull encounter to flow as much as possible.

FUSSY FACTOR: Ray Parlour was not happy with his booking for clipping the heels of Christie and kicked the ball away but there were few other complaints about the official.