MIDDLESBROUGH last night raced against the clock to finalise a £3.5m deal to bring England striker Michael Ricketts to the Riverside.

The Bolton Wanderers frontman agreed personal terms with Boro 30 minutes before the midnight transfer deadline.

Ricketts had earlier completed a medical at Boro's Rockcliffe Park training headquarters, before meeting club officials in a bid to hammer out an eleventh hour deal.

The surprise swoop for Ricketts came as Boro boss Steve McClaren finally ended the club's long and protracted chase for Derby duo Malcolm Christie and Chris Riggott, by signing the pair for a combined fee of £3m - which could rise to £5m.

But of greater surprise was the Teessiders attempt to ambush Tottenham's chase for the Trotters' striker.

Confusion initially surrounded the move for Ricketts, with the Lancashire club insisting that no agreement had been reached, despite Boro claiming a fee had been agreed and the 24-year-old was on his way to the North-East.

A Trotters spokesman said early yesterday: "Contrary to reports we have not had an official bid from Middlesbrough Football Club for Michael Ricketts."

Rickett's future has been the subject of intense speculation in recent weeks with Spurs leading the race, but with time running out, it seemed the player would be staying at the Reebok Stadium.

Boro's intervention came early yesterday with the Teessiders hoping to push through a triple deal. Meanwhile, McClaren was still delighted with the completion of deals for the Derby pair.

Striker Christie has signed straight away with defender Riggott joining initially on loan with a guaranteed permanent transfer by April.

"With Christie, you're talking about a player I tried to sign back in the summer and was quoted a price of £9m," said the Boro boss.

"He's got great potential, as has Riggott.

"We're looking at two players who are keen to improve and are very much about the club's future as well as the now."

Christie, an England Under-21 international, made his Rams debut in January 1999 as a substitute against Sheffield Wednesday and scored 30 goals in 116 league games at Pride Park.

Riggott broke in to the Rams' senior side during the 2000-2001 campaign and earned a call-up to the England Under-21 side and the Player of the Year award in his first season at the club.

Derby finance director Andrew Mackenzie said: ''These values are disappointing compared to the kind of figures we could have expected six months ago.

''But if you look at other transactions that have taken place during the transfer window this does stand up to the toughest scrutiny.

''The concept of a loan deal leading to an unconditional and permanent transfer gives the purchasing club the opportunity to spread cash flow while the selling club has the peace of mind of a guaranteed permanent deal.

''This deal comes with the full support of the board and our banks and they are satisfied that we have demonstrated we are serious in our intention to re-establish financial stability as quickly as possible and allow us to move on.''

Meanwhile 20-year-old Argentinian striker Carlos Marinelli has joined Italian Serie A side Torino on loan until the end of the season.

Marinelli arrived at Boro as a 17-year-old in a £1.5m move from Boca Juniors in October 1999, and was hailed as every young Argentinian is ' the new Maradona'.

But he has struggled to make an impact despite initially impressing fans with his attacking flair.

He started the first three games of the season but has played only a bit part since.

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