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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Apr 18, 2006

McClaren: Players 'are ready to rise to the challenge'

Middlesbrough manager Steve McClaren insists his players 'are ready to rise to the challenge' and make history at the club.

Boro are preparing for three semi-final matches in the space of eight days, with an FA Cup clash with West Ham sandwiching a two-legged UEFA Cup showdown against Steaua Bucharest.

These are heady days at the Riverside for McClaren, in particular, as he also appears to be in line to be named the next England manager.

The 44-year-old insists such a prospect is far from his thoughts and that he remains focused on bringing success to the Teesside club.

If the Football Association have yet to totally make up their mind on Sven-Goran Eriksson's successor, then a trophy or two before the end of the season could aid McClaren's cause.

McClaren knows, though, he has yet to claim either piece of silverware.

'I have to stress again that what we have done so far is to simply create an opportunity to make this season historic for the football club,' said McClaren.

'We haven't won anything yet, but we are determined to give it our best shot.

'We now face an extraordinary period of three cup semi-finals, and we are ready to rise to the challenge.

'And what an opportunity. This is why we are in football because situations like these don't come along very often in your career.'

At least Boro gave themselves the perfect send off for Thursday's first leg of their UEFA Cup tie in Romania with a 2-0 victory over FA Cup semi-final opponents West Ham yesterday.

McClaren made nine changes to the team beaten 1-0 at Portsmouth 48 hours previously to keep his big guns fresh.

David Wheater, a 19-year-old centre-back, made his full debut, while other youngsters in Matthew Bates, Adam Johnson, Andrew Taylor and Jason Kennedy also played their part.

McClaren concedes 'the kids' will almost certainly be involved again because even for his senior stars, the three matches - despite their importance - may prove too much.

'You do have to look at the bigger picture, and that's what we've been doing for the last couple of weeks,' added McClaren.

'We've tried to work things out, weigh things up, and in the last two matches we've involved every fit-and-able player at this club, including the kids.

'We might have to do the same again over the next three games, with no hesitation, even though they all want to play in every game.

'Those who played at Portsmouth wanted to play against West Ham, but then it's been like that all season in the 55 games we've had.

'They all know they wouldn't have been able to play in all 55, and they'll know this week coming up they can't play in every game.

'So for us to peak in terms of energy and freshness, we might have to change and rotate.

'Players have to be ready, as they have been over the last few weeks, and we have to make sure they are again.'

Although Boro gained a psychological edge over the Hammers with the win, it remains to be seen what impact the trip to Bucharest will have on McClaren's players for the FA Cup clash.

Even McClaren does not know, although he is adamant his side will be just as prepared as the Hammers.

'Ask me again around seven o'clock on Sunday and I will tell you if the UEFA Cup game has affected us - there will lie the answer,' said McClaren.

'There's a lot can happen on the day, but like them we will prepare thoroughly, with attention to detail one of the key things.

'We might have a game a few days before, but we have to make sure we are ready on Sunday because we know it's going to be a completely different game from that of yesterday.'