SKIPPER Gareth Southgate last night insisted that Middlesbrough will preserve their proud home record to ensure their season doesn't fall apart.

Southampton visit the Riverside Stadium this Saturday for a game that could shape the remainder of Boro's season.

The in-form Saints have proved to be the Premiership's surprise package this term, climbing to sixth place.

Jekyll-and-Hyde Boro were in that position themselves as recently as six weeks ago.

But their wretched away form, which stretched to nine successive defeats in all competitions with the 1-0 FA Cup exit at Chelsea, has seen Boro slide to 12th spot. They are unbeaten this season in 11 home games, but have gone 11 hours and two minutes without a Premiership away goal and there was no change in fortune against Chelsea.

Boro, knocked out of the Worthington Cup by First Division Ipswich, are now only playing for Premiership respectability.

Southgate said: "We're managing to do well at home, but we can't hit the back of the net away from home.

"I had a header at the end of Saturday's game and we had a couple of other chances, but it's not happening for us.

"In the end, we regained a bit of pride, but it didn't count for much.

"At home, we're one of the top scorers in the League. We just have to keep plugging away and believe that things will come when we're away from home.

"We now have a big game at home to Southampton and we will make sure we don't let our home form slip away.''

Dean Windass led the line for Boro at Stamford Bridge as manager Steve McClaren axed club record £8.15m signing Massimo Maccarone and strike partner Alen Boksic.

Windass was involved in the game's flashpoint when he clashed with Carlo Cudicini in an incident which led to the Chelsea goalkeeper being sent off. Referee Mark Halsey said he had seen Cudicini knee Windass in the head in the ensuing melee.

Centre-back Ugo Ehiogu suffered a punctured lung and two broken ribs when he launched a similar challenge on keeper Brad Friedel in Boro's 1-0 defeat at Blackburn on New Year's Day.

And Southgate maintained: "Dean had every right to challenge for the ball. Afterwards, he felt that Cudicini kneed him on the head. Ugo went for a similar ball at Blackburn.''

Boro, already without Ehiogu, Juninho and George Boateng, picked up another injury at Chelsea when Mark Wilson sustained a back problem and was forced off after only 21 minutes.

But the midfielder wouldn't have been available for the Southampton game because he is suspended after his sending-off for a second bookable offence at Aston Villa on December 28.

With injuries biting deep into his squad, McClaren has repeated his intention to bring in reinforcements this month, though he will almost certainly have to make do with loan signings.

Meanwhile, Italian Maccarone - who last week warned he would seek a move if he could not command a place with Boro - has once again been linked in his homeland with a move to Roma.

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