Boro build up

Thursday 10 January 2002

From Ian McCulloch

With the away game at Middlesbrough in December cancelled because of the adverse weather conditions, Fulham face the Teesiders on Saturday as one of the only two teams in the Premiership that they have yet to come up against, the other side being Blackburn Rovers.

Boro are currently in sixteenth place, just three points above the relegation places, having scored nineteen goals and conceding twenty-eight. Boss Steve McClaren is trying to stay positive even though his side are struggling to find goals in any shape or form at the moment.

"I'm not bothered who scores the goals," he said, "As long as it goes in the back of the net. It's not just the responsibility of the strikers, but the whole team. Gianluca Festa proved that against Everton when he scored from a set piece, which is another vital way of scoring.

"Obviously, I'd like us to score more goals. But if you turn it around it's four clean sheets in eight games, so we're getting something right and we need to develop the other side. We've got players capable of scoring goals, and I'm sure it's only a matter of time before that turns around."

Argentinean midfielder Carlos Marinelli is still sidelined with an ankle injury, and in his absence McClaren has been opting to field three centre-backs - Jason Gavin playing alongside Gareth Southgate and Gianluca Festa. Franck Queudrue and Robbie Stockdale have been the nominated wingbacks but have been playing more like defensive fullbacks.

England defender Ugo Ehiogu is out with a groin injury and is still some weeks away from a return, but Southgate and Festa have formed a very solid partnership in his absence.

Against Wimbledon in the FA Cup on Tuesday, Boro looked dour, negative and ineffectual, only in the second half when they brought on substitute Phil Stamp and converted to a four-four-two did they look slightly more threatening - the move giving Jonathan Greening more freedom to go out wide on the left.

They have now scored only three goals in their last nine games and their frontline strikers, Hamilton Ricard and Noel Whelan, are having a dismal time.

Croatian centre forward Alen Boksic has been out and the Teesiders will be hoping desperately that the talented hitman will be available to face Fulham. He was described this week as not being match-fit after suffering from a virus.

Australian international Mark Schwarzer is another injury worry, having had a hernia operation recently, but reports seem to indicate that he is on the way out of the Riverside anyway. Franck Queudrue has had a bout of concussion, and goalkeeper Mark Crossley has had an elbow knock, but both players are expected to be fully fit for the trip to the Cottage.

Boss McClaren, has confirmed that he has made a "tentative" enquiry for the unsettled Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke, but it is unlikely that this move would materialise in time for Saturday.

It doesn't promise to be the most attractive of games; Boro will do what they do best; playing it tight, playing it deep and hoping for some sort of break. Chances for Fulham will be at a premium and when they come the strikers have got to take them.

This is a match with nil-nil written all over it, but with Steve Marlet starting to hit the back of the net and slowly clawing himself back to form and fitness, Louis Saha surely due to shake off his wretched luck in front of goal soon, and Barry Hayles determined to show everyone that he should be the first choice striker, perhaps this is the game where they all go in. The Whites have been promising to give someone a good hiding - this could be it.