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Posted on 5 December 2006  - 12:00

Chris Hughton assesses the threat likely to be presented by forthcoming opponents, next up Middlesbrough at the Lane tonight...

Chris Hughton assesses the threat likely to be presented by forthcoming opponents, next up Middlesbrough at the Lane tonight...MIDDLESBROUGH HAVE BEEN a little bit up and down this season and have made changes to the team - also the shape and system. They have played a 4-5-1, while in a couple of recent games they have gone in with a 3-5-2 formation.

Boro are a side at the moment very capable of changing personnel and system of play. Their finest central defender of recent years is now the manager and I'm sure Gareth Southgate has had his teething problems - as we all do - but he is one most people have always felt is cut out for a management position.

Doing it in the Premiership is like being thrown in at the deep end, but I am sure he is enjoying the experience even though you are always under pressure to get results.

We would expect them to shape up the same as they did against Manchester United, which was with three at the back using the trio of very good centre halves at their disposal. Emanuel Pogatetz - in his more natural position, although he can play at left-back - Robert Huth, who they were chasing for a while, along with Jonathan Woodgate. They are likely be flanked by Abel Xavier and Andrew Taylor, the two wing-backs, with the very consistent George Boateng in front of the defenders in central midfield.

He is an important one for them, he always plays when fit and is a defensive type of midfielder. They then have options either side of him, one being Stuart Downing who came in in the last game going out from a central position to his more natural wide berth as his biggest strength is his ability to get crosses in.

Gareth has quite a few options up front and we have heard there is the possibility of Mark Viduka playing, although he hasn't featured for a while. They have Yakubu, who we know well and has the ability to create something out of nothing with being an unorthodox type player. The consistent thing in his make-up is he scores goals.

Malcolm Christie came back in for the last game after a horrific time with injuries and I'm sure they are delighted to see him back, while Massimo Maccarone is a threat off the bench as he proved coming off the bench in the UEFA Cup last season.

Middlesbrough have enjoyed a big success story in bringing young local players through the ranks to the first team, probably more than any other club at the moment. The likes of Taylor, Cattermole, Parnaby, Morrison, Downing and Johnson have all done well in the Premiership.

They have produced players and been prepared to blood them as well. This is testament to the club and a chairman who has encouraged it. There are few things more pleasing for supporters to see local lads not only coming into the side, but also doing well.