MIDDLESBROUGH are mourning the death of coach John Pickering.

Boro's former first-team coach died after a long illness. He was 56.

Teessider Pickering had been with the club for a decade, working under the management of Colin Todd, Lennie Lawrence and Bryan Robson.

Three years ago he stood down from the first-team set-up to take up a position at Boro's academy.

Boro chief executive Keith Lamb said: "Everyone at the club is deeply saddened by this news.

"John was highly respected and I know he will be a great loss to football. Our thoughts are particularly with his wife, June, and their family."

Pickering's service to Boro was recognised in 1998 when Robson gave him the honour of leading the team out at Wembley for the Coca-Cola Cup final against Chelsea.

Thornaby-raised Pickering was Boro's caretaker manager for one game, a 5-2 win at Charlton on the final day of the 1993-94 season, before Robson replaced the sacked Lawrence.

As a player, half-back Pickering had spells with Chelsea, Newcastle, Halifax and Barnsley.

He was a coach and manager at Blackburn and Lincoln and also coached at Carlisle and Newcastle.

Funeral arrangements have yet to be released.

l Boro have frozen season-ticket prices for fans who renew by July 7.

Prices still range from £313-£470, but rise sharply to £342.50-£510 after July 7. Concessionary rates also increase from a minimum £186 to £205.50.

l Derby boss Jim Smith has confirmed he is in talks with former Boro striker Fabrizio Ravanelli about a proposed £2m move from Lazio.

"I have had talks with Fabrizio in Rome and more discussions will take place next week," said Smith.

The Rams are understood to be prepared to match Ravanelli's £35,000-a-week pay packet.

l Boro striker Joseph-Desire Job made a 12-minute appearance as a substitute in Cameroon's 2-0 Confederations Cup defeat by Brazil.

l Bradford are ready to rival Wolves in the chase for Sunderland midfielder Alex Rae.