MIDDLESBROUGH boss Steve McClaren has further underlined his disillusionment with star strikers Massimo Maccarone and Alen Boksic by admitting that Dean Windass and Noel Whelan would have been in the side before now but for injuries.

McClaren demoted club record £8.15m signing Maccarone and Boksic to the substitutes' bench for Saturday's 1-0 FA Cup third-round defeat at Chelsea. Windass led Boro's attack in only his second senior start for the club this season, while Whelan, who has endured an injury-blighted campaign, came on as a half-time substitute for Joseph-Desire Job.

McClaren has now dropped Maccarone twice in the space of a fortnight after the Italian striker's failure to score in 11 starts.

And Boksic, who is out of contract at the end of the season and now free to negotiate with overseas clubs, was reduced to the role of late replacement for Windass at Stamford Bridge.

Like Maccarone, Boksic was a big disappointment in the 1-0 New Year's Day defeat at Blackburn Rovers.

Windass, who recently spent a successful loan spell with First Division Sheffield United to help recover his fitness following injury, gave Boro renewed vigour up front, and McClaren conceded: "Dean led the line well, unsettled the opposition and the rest of the side seemed to follow his lead.

"Noel Whelan has been unlucky. He came on and did well for us and showed the same sort of commitment.

"Both players would have played earlier if they'd been fit.''

Despite his side's ninth successive away defeat in all competitions, McClaren insisted he saw encouraging signs in Saturday's display.

With Boro defending an unbeaten 11-match home record against Southampton this weekend, McClaren said: "Overall, I would say we have better games ahead.

"We know we can take Saturday's performance into those games.''

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