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A first taste of glory?

If we're being honest then Middlesbrough against Bolton Wanderers is hardly the sort of fixture to set pulses racing, but on Sunday they will face one another in the 44th League Cup final and, despite a dearth of glamour, the match holds a surprising amount of promise.

Not only will there be enough talented players on show to light up Cardiff's wonderful Millennium Stadium, but with the prize of UEFA Cup football on offer for the eventual winner, the match is sure to be contested fiercely from the opening minute.

For both Steve McLaren and Sam Allardyce, professional pride will be at stake, not only are they both on the verge of triumph in a cup competition for the first time in their managerial careers, but one of them will become the first English manager to lift a domestic trophy since Brian Little's League Cup win with Aston Villa in 1996.

With Bolton lying in 11th place in the Premiership and Middlesbrough in 13th, a season of respectable, if unexceptional, mid-table mediocrity beckons, but the carrot of European football next season will be critical if the two sides are to retain the services of their star players this summer.

And with neither club ever having competed in a European competition there is a place in folklore up for grabs.

Sunday will be Bolton's second appearance in the League Cup final and Allardyce will be hoping to fare better than former Trotters boss Bruce Rioch, who, in Bolton's last final appearance in 1995, lost 2-1 to Liverpool when Steve McManaman at his mercurial best scored twice to render an Alan Thompson long-range special purely academic.

In Cardiff Bolton will look to their three biggest players to come good on the big stage and in Jay-Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff and Ivan Campo, Allardyce has at his disposal three players of quality who can thrive in the cup final atmosphere.

For these three the Millennium Stadium will most likely signify the high-point of their Bolton careers, but for Middlesbrough's Juninho contesting finals with Boro has become a familiar, if disappointing experience.

The diminutive Brazilian, now in his third spell with the Teeside club, tasted defeat with Boro in both the League and FA Cup finals in 1997 in what was a terrible season for the North-East club as they were relegated from the top-flight.

While few would argue that Juninho has lost some of the verve of his early career, he still possesses the skill to embarrass defenders with jinking runs and the occasional brilliant goal.

Allardyce: Eyes silverware
Allardyce: Eyes silverware

He will be ably assisted by Gaizka Mendieta, the man who was transferred from Valencia to Lazio for £28.9 million, but failed to impress in Italy or at Barcelona, but who in his time at the Riverside has shown flashes of his former brilliance.

The game will take on extra significance for Middlesbrough because in the 128 years since the club's inception, not once have they lifted a major piece of silverware.

To varying degrees of significance, both Bolton and Middlesbrough's build-ups have been complicated by off-field concerns.

For Middlesbrough it got no more serious than McClaren being somewhat uncomfortably out-voted by his players over the colour of the necktie they should wear on Sunday.

The ever-attentive fashionistas residing within the Boro dressing room were informed that their natty grey Hugo Boss suits and pastel blue shirts would clash with McClaren's calls for red ties.

The result? The players took advice and voted to wear pink cravats, much to McClaren's chagrin.

At Bolton, the fiasco surrounding the club's ticketing policy has left 900 fans without seats for what could be a red-letter day in the club's history and caused significant ill-feeling.

The club's two-ticket-per-fan policy backfired horribly when they sold out their 30,000 allocation for the final in just eight hours prompting an outcry amongst ticketless fans and subsequent demonstrations.

The disgruntled fans have not gone unnoticed by Allardyce, but with his and the clubs' hands tied by the inevitable red tape, it seems that some Wanderers fans will have to settle for an armchair or a barstool.

The Carling Cup final kicks off at 1400 GMT, join us then for Live Commentary.

  • Any thoughts? Then you can email Phil Holland.


    First taste of glory?| The bosses: Old style, new philosophies
    Sam gets his final at last | McClaren: 'We can make history'

    Middlesbrough squad | R2 v Brighton (W 1-0) | R3 at Wigan (W 2-1)
    R4 v Everton (0-0; 5-4 on pens) | QFs at Tottenham (1-1; 5-4 on pens)
    SF 1st leg at Arsenal (W 1-0) | 2nd leg (W 2-1)

    Bolton squad | R2 v Walsall (W 3-1) | R3 v Gillingham (W 2-0)
    R4 at Liverpool (W 3-2) | QFs v Southampton (W 1-0)
    SF 1st leg v Aston Villa (W 5-2) | 2nd leg (L 0-2)