Boro v Fulham preview

Thursday 22 August 2002

From Fulham Today's Ian McCulloch

Tipped by many people to be the Premiership's dark horses this season, Middlesbrough have been one of the few clubs to continue the incredible spending spree of the last few years. Highly regarded manager Steve McClaren now has a year's Premiership experience under his belt, and if some of his big name signings come off then Boro could be a real force to be reckoned with.

One of the summer's most intriguing transfers was Middlesbrough's record buy Massimo Maccarone for £8.2m from Empoli. As yet unproven, Maccarone has the potential to be a top class striker, and McClaren will be hoping that he finds his feet quickly. If he doesn't, then Boro will once again be looking at the ageing and injury-prone Alen Boksic for their goals.

Less of an unknown quantity is Juninho. Arrived back on Teeside for the third time, the Boro faithful will be hoping that the mercurial Brazilian will be able to recreate the form of his first stint at the Riverside. Disastrously, Juninho suffered a cruciate ligament injury in a pre-season friendly and will be out for some time; he will definitely not be available for the visit of Fulham.

Other new signings for Boro include George Boateng from Aston Villa for £5m and Geremi on loan from Real Madrid. Former England international Paul Ince has moved the other way and has joined Wolves on a free transfer.

The Boro trip looks to be a tough one, but understandably, Fulham's assistant manager Christian Damiano was in optimistic mood when he took a break from an intensive training session on Tuesday. Relaxed and confident after Saturday's demolition of Bolton, the Frenchman was clearly looking forward to an intense four days, which includes the final of the Intertoto Cup against Bologna as well as the trip to Middlesbrough.

Damiano began by expressing his satisfaction with how well it went against Bolton.

"I was happy with the result against Bolton for many reasons," he said, "It was the first time that we had scored four goals in the Premiership, we had goals from the midfield as well as the strikers, and it's always good to win the first game of the season - we did it when we won the First Division and I'll take that as a good omen for us. All in all it was a very good start for us."

In some quarters, Fulham's victory was put down to the poor quality of the Bolton team. Damiano was quick to refute this, stressing that the Trotters were able to play only as well as Fulham let them. He also explained that a slightly more flexible approach to the Whites' play is starting to pay dividends.

"I think we made it very difficult for Bolton," said Damiano, "They have the potential to be very dangerous up front, but we put them under a lot of pressure and we kept attacking them; they tried to play deep but we gave them a lot of problems down the corridors - with Legwinski on the right-side and Boa Morte on the left.

"We tried to put a different accent on the game, and tried to play in a slightly new way, and it worked very well for us."

Last season's visit to the Boro was a disappointing one for everybody. Damiano was quietly confident that things will better this time round.

"Generally, it was a good season for us last year," he said, "But we failed to win some very important games that we should have won; for example, Middlesbrough in February - it was very disappointing for us to come back from that game with nothing. But now our team has the experience of playing in the Premiership for a year; when we came up from the First Division, only three or four players had played at that level before, so it was a voyage of discovery for most of the team.

"Last season we beat them 2-1 at home and they beat us by the same score at the Riverside. This year I think they have the potential to finish in the top eight or ten; they have brought in a lot of good players and they had a good squad already. They will be stronger this year and it will be a very difficult game for us.

"It is important for us to approach the game with the same spirit that we had against Bolton; but if we do that I believe that we will achieve a good result up there."

This may be a very good time to be playing the Boro while they are still trying to bed in some of their new players. What is not in doubt on the evidence of their first game away to Southampton is that they are going to be as tight at the back as ever, and that goals are going to be at a premium. But with Fulham joint top scorers in the Premiership at the moment with Newcastle, it could prove to be a very interesting trip indeed on Saturday.