Middlesbrough 2 Wigan Athletic 3: Mellor deepens McClaren gloom

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The Independent Football

"These are testing times for everyone at the football club," admitted the downcast Middlesbrough manager. "We have simply got to stick together and we must not panic. There are still a lot of games to play this season and we are determined to put things right. We're in a battle and we have to fight our way out of it."

It is a measure of just how far McClaren's stock has fallen that, after another week during which Eriksson's future as England manager was called into question, his name has continued to slip further down the list of favourites, relating to possible successors to the errant Swede, that he so recently topped.

The former assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United has long been championed by influential figures within the Football Association as the domestic candidate most likely to lead the national team beyond the 2006 World Cup. However, the emergence of a new breed of English coach, personified by yesterday's visiting manager, Paul Jewell, and Manchester City's Stuart Pearce, has prompted a rethink of the post-Eriksson policy.

If Jewell does warrant serious consideration as an international manager of the future, then the ambitious but realistic individual at the forefront of the Latics' remarkable rise to prominence in the Premiership does not intend to enhance his own reputation by favouring style over substance.

"We created some really good opportunities but the game was too open for me," said Jewell. "We're one of those teams who cannot seem to sit back and close a game out. At times we get a bit carried away with ourselves and that drives me daft."

Jewell's bold decision to include both of his new signings, midfielder David Thompson and forward Neil Mellor, in an attack-minded starting line-up reaped immediate reward. Only two minutes had elapsed when the duo combined to send Jason Roberts clear and his powerful, rising shot fizzed through the hands of an embarrassed Brad Jones. When the typically effervescent Thompson eluded his marker at the far post to head home Gary Teale's inviting cross, Wigan were in control and McClaren was in turmoil.

Stewart Downing's intervention after the break allowed his manager to breathe more easily but the relief was only temporary. Two perfectly delivered corners were converted by substitute Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Yakubu, as an unlikely Middlesbrough comeback gained momentum. However, Mellor's late winner means McClaren is no nearer halting a dangerous descent towards the Championship and no closer to succeeding Eriksson. Mellor's debut goal obviously meant a lot more to Jewell. "It's always great to see my strikers score goals but it gave me even more pleasure to see Neil score the winner," he said. "Even before then he was having a great game."