STEVE McCLAREN insisted last night that Juninho is already starting to bring the best out of Middlesbrough's misfiring striker Massimo Maccarone.

North-East rivals Newcastle United visit the Riverside tonight, and Maccarone is expected to be drafted in up front as a replacement for Malcolm Christie, who is doubtful with a virus.

And McClaren believes the Italian front-man has shown over the past seven days just what a great talent he can be.

Maccarone scored four goals in a 9-0 Boro second-string win over Bradford City a week ago and was influential in Juninho's equaliser when he came on as a substitute against Everton on Saturday.

And McClaren, who paid a club record £8.15m fee for the player in the summer, said: "Massimo made Juninho's goal and I have been impressed with him lately.

"He has relished the challenge of competing for his place since the new strikers (Christie and Michael Ricketts) came in. He scored four goals in the Reserves game and he linked well with Juninho.

"Against Everton he looked very lively. We said at the start of the season that it was going to be up and down with him, he'll have good spells and bad spells. Hopefully he is coming back into a good spell."

And McClaren suggested that Maccarone will not be the only young player at the club to benefit from having the creative talents of Brazilian World Cup winner Juninho in the side.

He said: "Juninho is a big boost to anybody. We saw that on Saturday with the way he boosted the players around him and the crowd.

"Any player is bound to benefit from having a player like that around, none more so than the strikers."

Many believe this evening's Tees-Tyne derby will have extra spice added following the controversial postponement of the fixture on February 1.

An enraged Sir Bobby Robson accused Boro of engineering the call-off because of injury problems.

However, McClaren refused to get embroiled in a war of words ahead of the match, saying: "The game is on and we are looking forward to it. A lot has been said about the weather but it's on and Newcastle are going very well so it should be a very good game."

And yesterday Robson also took a backward step playing down talk of a grudge match.

The Magpies boss said: "I spoke to Steve McClaren this morning and I told him I'm keeping a low profile about the postponement. It's history now and any embarrassment will be from them. We have a good relationship with Middlesbrough."

Boro have lost just once at home all season - a 5-2 drubbing at the hands of Aston Villa in January - but they are up against a Newcastle side who are still in with a shout of winning the Premiership title.

And McClaren thinks Robson's men have caught big guns Arsenal and Manchester United up in terms of class.

But the Boro boss admitted Newcastle need to claim all three points tonight if they are to maintain their push to become champions.

"Newcastle have got the same number of points as Manchester United and they have also got them to play," said the Boro boss.

"They are playing well and have a good squad. I'm sure if Arsenal slip up Newcastle will be there or thereabouts ready to cash in.

"What they need to do is win every game and that's what the pressure is like at the top. Draws are no good because you can get left behind."

McClaren revealed he is taking a leaf out of Robson's book by sticking by his 'Buy Young, Buy British' motto.

He said: "You can look at Newcastle when Bobby took over and in his first two seasons they were 11th and 11th. The turnover of players was enormous.

"I'm not saying we are emulating Newcastle, but that is what we needed to do. We are wanting to get a younger squad in, with the majority of English players, and that is what we are trying to do. We are making progress."

Brazilian midfielder Doriva, on loan from Celta Vigo, has been named in the squad alongside Hartlepool-born David Murphy.

But Chris Riggott is ruled out for up to four weeks after a cartilage operation

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