STEVE McCLAREN claimed prior to last night's UEFA Cup date with Sporting Lisbon that Middlesbrough are more than capable of going to Portugal and scoring. Now the Teessiders have to prove it after a scintillating fightback last night.

Boro clawed themselves back into a last-16 tie which looked to be dead and buried when they were 3-0 down.

Sporting turned on the magic at the Riverside Stadium to grab three priceless away goals ahead of next Thursday's return leg at the Estadio Jose Alvalade.

But an extraordinary acrobatic kick from Joseph Job sparked a Boro revival in which Chris Riggott's volley four minutes from time gave the European rookies a glimmer of hope, although the task in hand remains a tough one.

After a closely-contested opening half, in which neither side seriously threatened, the side wearing the famous green and white hoops with the respected pedigreee on the continent ran riot.

They opened up a three-goal lead within 20 minutes of the restart through Pedro Barbosa, Liedson, and the lively Roudolphe Douala.

But, after failing to create much, Boro responded in exactly the right manner and the strikes from Job, a late replacement for teenager Danny Graham, and Riggott have set up an enthralling encounter in Lisbon.

A little over ten months ago Graham's name had been announced over the Scunthorpe United PA system as he made his last appearance for Darlington after helping the Quakers avoid relegation from the Football League.

But, proving how highly thought of he is by McClaren, Graham was given the perfect stage to make his first full start for Boro against the might of Sporting in front of a pretty disappointing crowd for such a vital European fixture.

He has been threatening in recent weeks to partner Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in attack and, after scoring his first Premiership goal 11 days ago against Charlton, he got his reward.

But it was not to prove a dream debut fot the 19-year-old, whose pre-match delight would not have been shared by the other more experienced forwads on Boro's books.

The careers of internationals Job and Szilard Nemeth suffered further blows from having to start on the bench.

Sporting showed their intent to find an away goal by starting with three strikers.

The home side, meanwhile, attacked immediately and had strong claims for a penalty waved away when Stewart Downing appeared to be tripped by full-back Rogerio.

The visitors, unbeaten on their travels in the competition, loved to have possession of the ball and one early move should have led to the opening goal after 14 minutes.

Some neat trickery from Roudolphe Douala created space but his fine near post cross was poorly headed high and wide beyond Mark Schwarzer's post by the unmarked Hugo Viana.

Viana, on a season-long loan from Newcastle, had talked of his determination to impress the North-East public.

But that effort went nowhere near achieving his aim and summed up his time on Tyneside in an instant.

Both of these sides had alarming defeats at the weekend. Boro's defeat at Aston Villa led to them being knocked out of the top six, while Sporting's reversal at Beleneses handed the initiative to Porto and Benfica in the race for the Portuguese title.

Despite Sporting's blistering start, it was Boro who played with the more composure as the first half developed. However, there was very little in the way of goalmouth action, just plenty of hard work epitomised by Graham's running.

In Boro's previous UEFA Cup home games - scoring a total of nine goals from matches with Banik Ostrava, Grazer AK, Lazio and Partizan Belgrade - they had been able to create chances almost at will. Sporting provided a tougher defensive proposition.

Bolo Zenden and Doriva, the midfield pairing after Ray Parlour failed to overcome a back problem, got through plenty of running between them and restricted Sporting's play-making trio of Joao Moutinho, Fabio Rochemback and Viana to just the occasional surge forward.

That was the major reason why Schwarzer, back in goal after a two game absence, was never tested until the second half, after being rushed back from a knee injury because of a keeper crisis.

McClaren sensed a more adventurous approach was needed, so off went Michael Reiziger and on came Nemeth on the right of midfield. The substitution did not have the desired effect and Sporting took the lead four minutes later.

Barbosa nicked the ball from Franck Queudrue, Liedson and Douala combined before Barbosa, played onside by Stuart Parnaby, neatly placed the ball into Schwarzer's bottom left corner with just the Aussie to beat.

Boro's task in next week's second leg was made even more difficult moments later when the competition's top-scorer, Liedson, headed past Schwarzer when he met a pin-point back post centre from Douala.

One of the favourites to lift their first European trophy since their 1964 Cup Winners' Cup triumph, Sporting had shown in an instant why that was the case.

After Zenden fired over the bar as the ball rolled back to him on the edge of the penalty area, Sporting looked like they had put Boro's chances of progress out of reach by hitting a third.

This time the lively Douala had the simple task of tapping in after Schwarzer had made two saves from Viana and then Liedson.

But Job's acrobatics late on, after meeting Bolo Zenden's centre, reduced the deficit and then Riggott made the most of a spill from goalkeeper Ricardo to raise hopes of an unlikely turnaround next week

Result: Middlesbrough 2 Sporting Lisbon 3.

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