DERBY COUNTY have confirmed Middlesbrough are still in the driving seat to sign striker Malcolm Christie.

Leeds United are understood to be preparing to launch an 11th-hour bid for the highly-rated young marksman.

But no firm offer from the Elland Road club for the 23-year-old has been made and Derby secretary Keith Pearson has dimissed Leeds' interest as 'speculation'.

Boro boss Steve McClaren has made a three-month loan bid for Christie and teammate Chris Riggott, with a view to permanent deals at the end of the season.

However, the Teessiders are not in a position to offer substantial money now for the pair, leaving the door open for Leeds should they decide to hijack the deal.

Former Boro head coach Terry Venables, now in charge at Leeds, is understood to be in a position to buy again after the sales of Rio Ferdinand, Lee Bowyer, Olivier Dacourt and Robbie Fowler.

But Venables' primary target remains Brazilian World Cup midfielder Kleberson.

Providing the Leeds chief can sign the Atletico PR player for the rumoured £4m fee, then a move for £2m rated Christie is also likely.

Leeds' interest has come at a bad time for Boro, who were expecting to hear from Derby whether their loan attempts were successful.

Now cash-strapped Derby, who would prefer to receive cash up front for their prize assets, may decide to wait to weigh up further offers.

Derby boss John Gregory indicated last night that both Christie and Riggott could still be playing at Pride Park when the transfer window closes at the end of the month, though a move looks to be on the cards.

Gregory said: "Just because a club shows interest in a player it does not mean that he will definitely end up there.

"They could still be here after the transfer window closes, or at the start of next season, or even this time next year. Who knows?

"That's why it is important they keep playing well. If clubs want the players badly enough, they'll come and get them."

Meanwhile, Dean Windass has reacted angrily to news that Chelsea keeper Carlo Cudicini has not been suspended for his red card against Boro.

The FA's appeal committee decided that Cudicini's red card - during the FA Cup clash at Stamford Bridge - on January 4 was sufficient punishment.

And Windass, who insists he was kneed in the face by Cudicini, is convinced the Italian should have faced a ban for his dismissal.

Windass said: "I cannot believe he has got off when the referee has not changed his mind.

"I know for a fact if I had done it I would have had to accept the punishment I deserve.

"He attacked me when I was on the ground, just because I was late with a challenge.

"I just can't believe he has got away with it and he's escaped his real punishment."

Windass was in talks with Sheffield United yesterday as he looks to complete a move to Bramall Lane.

McClaren, meanwhile, has revealed he tried to sign Tony Vidmar before he captured Frenchman Franck Queudrue.

Queudrue arrived on loan last season before making a permanent £2.5m switch from RC Lens in the summer.

But McClaren says he would have liked to have signed former Rangers star Vidmar, who only arrived on a free transfer earlier this season.

The Boro boss said: "We looked at Tony Vidmar before we signed Franck Queudrue.

"Then I got a phone call in the summer to say Tony was available. I couldn't believe it when we got the call because he's a tremendous professional."

* The Football Association have been warned their continued flouting of rules regarding suspensions will be discussed by FIFA's international board following the treatment of Cudicini.

FIFA have responded to the FA's decision not to ban the Italian.

World football's governing body insist international laws are in place which decree any dismissed player must be banned for at least one match in the same competition, starting the following week.

However, the FA have steadfastly maintained this amendment was only instituted in October and are unwilling to change their disciplinary rules midway through a season.

The matter is nevertheless now set to be discussed when FIFA's law-making body, the international board, meet on March 15 in Belfast.

The world governing body, who have argued the FA are alone in flouting their rules, will at least be looking for them to pledge to make changes next season.

FIFA will cite their circular letter in October last year, which made it clear suspensions were compulsory after red-card offences.

* A fine display by Middlesbrough Reserves last night saw them earn a 2-0 victory against Birmingham's second string in the Midlands.

Goals from Robbie Stockdale and Stuart Downing ensured a win for the Boro in the game at Solihull Borough's ground