I HAVE BEEN away with The Republic of Ireland this week while always looking forward to our first home game of the new season against Middlesbrough - especially after our good win at Portsmouth last week.
It was good to be back in front of our home crowd for the Porto friendly. The team are confident playing at home, it is a good surface and - although I would say this - it is a very, very good football stadium. The crowd are close and very much get behind you and I think with the fact that expectation levels are high, they really want to get behind us.
We've got to put in a good enough performance to justify such support.
Middlesbrough are a very experienced side and they also have good youngsters to come in. The experienced players won't all play a full season and this is when the young players will be utilised. They have a good side and we found this in the second last game of last season, which was a big game for us and one we needed to get something out of. Probably their experience showed on the day.
One of Middlesbrough's key threats is Stewart Downing and he is a very good young player. Strangely enough, you almost don't view him as a youngster any more, but he is and managed to play nigh on a full season last time while being recognised at international level.
He is a natural left winger and this probably why he is spoken about so much as there are not that many around with such pace.
Yakubu was drafted in by Steve McClaren in the summer and he brings power and pace with him. He will score goals for them, that I have no doubt about, he is young and if I look at his exploits over the last couple of seasons he has done ever so well.
There was always going to be interest in him because of the amount of goals he scored. He was with a very offensive team at Portsmouth with Harry Redknapp and, of course, he will add to what Middlesbrough have already got in the striking department with the experienced heads of Viduka, Hasselbaink and Nemeth.
In terms of formation, I think Middlesbrough will be very much the same as last season with a 4-4-2. I would expect Downing to be on the left and great experience in the middle of the park with a combination of Boateng, Parlour and Mendieta.
Up front it will probably be a choice between Hasselbaink, Yakubu or Viduka. The only change will be Ehiogu, who is suspended for the game and Southgate will have to lead from the back as he always does. It will also be interesting to see Reiziger back after injury, he is another experienced quality player.
Chris Hughton offers his regular assessment of forthcoming opponents continuing with Middlesbrough who visit the Lane on Saturday.