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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

50-50 Challenge
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By ESPN Staff

Southgate hails Boro's flourishing Wheater

Middlesbrough boss Gareth Southgate will enter the January transfer market having unearthed a gem from within his own ranks.

Chairman Steve Gibson is ready to back his manager with hard cash once again as he attempts to strengthen a relatively small squad with proven quality.

Southgate insists he will not spend for spending's sake, and having seen David Wheater emerge from the club's Academy set-up and prove himself a perfectly capable Premier League player at the age of just 20, he has a solid argument to back up that stance.

Redcar-born Wheater got his chance at the start of the season with Jonathan Woodgate and Robert Huth both recovering from surgery, but has missed only two of the club's 20 games since.

Southgate said: 'There's no question he has been a real bonus for us. He had the spell (on loan) at Darlington last year, which did him the world of good.

'But there is a huge difference playing at that level and the level he has come into this season.

'He had a game at the end of last season at home to Fulham which was good experience for him, and really we had to throw him in through necessity at the start of the season.

'I say that - we had other options, but because his pre-season form had been good, he earned the right to have that chance.

'But we could not have expected him to flourish in the way he has.

'It was a real shot in the arm for all of us that he adapted so well.'

Such has been Wheater's contribution that, if the illness which saw him replaced by Huth at half-time during the 3-0 defeat at Birmingham on Boxing Day prevents his participation at Portsmouth tomorrow, it will come as a major blow to Boro.

Skipper George Boateng is suspended and former Pompey midfielder Gary O'Neil remains a doubt with a hamstring injury.

The Teessiders head for the south coast having seen their recent recovery blown apart by successive defeats.

There was a belief at the Riverside Stadium that a corner had been turned when Southgate's men deservedly beat then leaders Arsenal 2-1 and followed it up with a 1-0 victory at Derby.

However, Scott Parker's late strike at the Riverside on December 22 and the 3-0 reverse at St Andrews mean they will run out at Fratton Park sitting in 16th place, but just three points clear of derby rivals Sunderland in 19th.

Southgate admitted: 'That's why you always want to judge a season at halfway or more importantly, at the end of it, because while you are in the flow of it, you can have spells where you go on a great run, you can have spells where you have a really poor run.

'All teams will have. It can happen to everybody.'