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Last Updated: Friday, 28 April 2006, 13:35 GMT 14:35 UK
Euro final for the Boro rollercoaster
By Nathan Mercer

Steve McClaren
McClaren faced criticism from the Middlesbrough fans after Boro's poor form
Middlesbrough's progression to the Uefa Cup final provides the perfect finale to what might be the most remarkable season in the club's 130-year history.

Steve McClaren's side created history on Thursday by dramatically knocking out Steaua Bucharest and reaching their first European final.

But for Marlon Harewood's late strike for West Ham, Boro could also have been on their way to Cardiff for their second final of the season in the FA Cup.

And yet for all their success in the cup, McClaren's side have endured some humiliating defeats in a rollercoaster season, as well as having to contend with constant speculation linking McClaren with the England manager job.

On the back of a winning start in Europe and a stunning 2-1 victory over Arsenal, Boro were humbled in front of their home fans against local rivals Sunderland but in October they again raised their game when they comfortably despatched Manchester United 4-1.

If McClaren had taken the England job there wouldn't have been too many tears shed by Middlesbrough supporters
BBC Radio Five Live's John Murray

Reflecting on the highs and lows, BBC Radio Five Live commentator John Murray, who has regularly covered Middlesbrough games this season, said: "They have had an extraodinary season. There was a stage in the season where they had a reputation for dull football and games where very little happened.

"But you look at what's happened in the last couple of weeks and they've had the most exciting games you can ever imagine, and that's down to McClaren."

Boro fans could not have asked for a worse start to 2006 though, and quickly wiped away any lingering festive cheer by recording their most depressing month of the season as rivals Newcastle snatched a last-gasp draw from them.

"In the darker days McClaren was the target of the unhappiness and unrest at the club and there is no greater example of that than when the fan came onto the pitch and threw his season ticket at him during the Aston Villa game," said Murray.

Arsenal beat Middlesbrough 7-0
Middlesbrough fell to their heaviest defeat of the season at Highbury

With non-league Nuneaton next on the fixture list, Boro had the perfect opportunity to bury the disappointment of the previous week. But Boro hearts sank even further as they watched their side manage only a draw against the semi-pro's from the Conference League North.

That was followed by a 7-0 hammering by Arsenal a week later - which McClaren described as his "toughest day as Middlesbrough manager".

Summing up the fluctuating fortunes of this amazing campaign, though, McClaren went from his worst day in football to arguably one of his best a month later.

That came when he masterminded a 3-0 demolition of champions Chelsea and that victory, as well as progression in Europe and a replay victory over Nuneaton, finally got their season back on track.

With Eriksson's announcement that he was leaving his post, McClaren was thrust into the limelight, fielding questions on his future at every press conference.

Middlesbrough striker Yakubu
Yakubu's goal helped Boro stun Chelsea 3-0

He quickly became the favourite to land the post, and although he insisted he remained focused on his job, the attention was another problem that he and his players would have to overcome.

Murray said: "The general impression of McClaren is that if he had gone to take the England job there wouldn't have been too many tears shed by Middlesbrough supporters."

An incredible recovery against FC Basle in Europe was followed by another derby defeat at home to Newcastle, but Boro were through to two semi-finals thanks to an FA Cup win over Charlton.

It's not just been a season of contrast - it's been two months of complete and total contrast
BBC Radio Five Live's Mark Clemmit

And according to Murray, that cup success was largely due to the influence of the experienced players at the club..

"The experienced players raise themselves for the big occasions and the memorable league games they've had, have been like cup occasions. There is a belief among them that they are a cup team."

Boro's victories earned them many plaudits as they ditched their tag of being a dull side.

"The second leg against Steaua, the game at Roma and the home wins against Chelsea and Manchester United were four of the most exciting matches I've ever seen," said Murray.

"Against Chelsea Boro played what must have been their best performance under McClaren. From then on, with the odd hiccup here and there, notably against West Ham, they never looked back."

Massimo Maccarone celebrates with his Boro teammates
Massimo Maccarone celebrates his goal that beat FC Basle

Asseseing the feelings of the Boro fans throughout their turbulent season, Radio Five Live reporter and Middlesbrough fan Mark Clemmit said: "Two months ago, like everybody else I was speculating whether the chairman would keep faith with the manager.

"Two months later, it beggars belief that we reached two semi-finals, and to come to this is unbelievable. It's not just been a season of contrast - it's been two months of complete and total contrast."

On the day that the attention of the next England manager was switched from McClaren to Luiz Felipe Scolari, Boro pulled off their landmark victory in typically breathtaking style.

But Boro will have little time to unwind ahead of the final in Eindhoven against Sevilla.

The exhausting victory over Steaua was the first of four matches in six days as the Middlesbrough rollercoaster prepares for one final twist.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Highlight: Boro commentator screams delight


News conference: Middlesbrough boss Steve McClaren


Interview: Middlesbrough's Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink



SEE ALSO
McClaren hails 'incredible' Boro
28 Apr 06 |  Middlesbrough
McClaren angry at Greening claims
07 Feb 06 |  Middlesbrough
Nuneaton 1-1 Middlesbrough
07 Jan 06 |  FA Cup


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