Southgate makes Korean star wait for Boro debut

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The Independent Football

The Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate will not risk throwing the new signing Lee Dong Gook into the heat of Premiership battle until he is ready.

The 27-year-old South Korea international arrived on Teesside last week amid huge interest from his home country, but did not even make the 16 for Middlesbrough's 1-1 draw with Arsenal last Saturday.

Southgate is confident that the former Pohang Steelers star can make an impact in the English game but, as he prepares for the trip to the champions Chelsea on Saturday, he will not allow the Korean star to get ahead of himself.

He said: "We have to think about what we want to do. He needs a period of training to get up to full fitness. Very often when players join a new club it is a dangerous time for injury, and that is the last thing we want. We will build him up slowly and see how he goes in training."

Lee missed the World Cup finals last summer with a cruciate ligament injury, and although he has now recovered from that problem he is still regaining full match fitness.

In addition, first-choice strikers Mark Viduka and Ayegbeni Yakubu have been in excellent form, and with Malcolm Christie providing back-up following his latest recovery from injury, there is no immediate rush to add Lee to the mix.

Southgate said: "The team is playing very well at the moment so I have got lots to think about. But it is great to have him.

"We need competition for places in all areas of the field and it is a great challenge for Dong Gook to come and try to play in the Premiership. I know that is something he is very keen to do."

Lee's arrival has offset the record signing Massimo Maccarone's departure for Siena, and Southgate will hope he gets a better return from his latest acquisition than he did from the Italian.

The Bolton chairman Phil Gartside fears the club's stayaway fans could drive another expensive European recruit, Nicolas Anelka, out of the Reebok.

The average attendance at the Reebok has slumped by more than 2,000 this season, despite the £8m club-record signing of Anelka from Fenerbahce last August. Despite launching a series of cut-price ticket offers to tempt fans back to watch Sam Allardyce's team, Gartside admits that the empty seats are becoming a major worry.

Gartside said: "If we want to keep players like Nicolas Anelka happy, we have got to give them the support they deserve. We need to improve the atmosphere here, so it was disappointing to see that 2,500 season ticket holders didn't bother to turn up for the Charlton game recently."

The Bolton manager Allardyce upset fans by suggesting last month that tickets at the Reebok are no more expensive than those charged by other clubs.

And Gartside admits that they cannot continue to slash prices in a bid to fill the empty seats. "For the sake of our season ticket holders, we can't keep discounting tickets. We've got to be realistic and businesslike about it.

"We're not milking it, we aren't making piles of money and we are putting a lot back into facilities, which all comes at a cost. Some of the TV money will go towards keeping the cost of football down for the fans, but we need them to get behind us now."