TERRY VENABLES last night confessed he has fallen in love with Middlesbrough - and that their Premiership survival is more important than his personal pride.

The former England coach is refusing to make any commitment to Boro beyond the end of the season as he attempts to complete the rescue mission which began in December when beleaguered manager Bryan Robson called for help.

Venables is contracted to work for ITV next season as chief pundit on their new Saturday night highlights show presented by Des Lynam.

But Boro skipper Paul Ince has launched the clamour for head coach Venables to remain at the Riverside alongside Robson, whose own future is also the subject of intense debate.

Ince said: "Of course I would like Terry to stay. He's lifted the lads, he's a bubbly character and everyone feels confident around him.

"Terry will make his own decision, but we all hope at Middlesbrough that he will stay because we think we can improve under him and Bryan Robson.

"Terry's coaching is second to none and I think most of the players here haven't had a coach with as much quality as Tel, without any disrespect to anyone else. He's the best coach I've played under.

"At the moment, though, we've just got to focus on staying in the Premiership.''

The fight resumes today when Venables leads fourth-bottom Boro into a critical derby clash with Newcastle at St. James' Park.

And Venables admits: "Avoiding relegation would be a great achievement for me personally.

"But it becomes more than that once you get involved and once you know the personalities here. Whether your head is on the line or not, it becomes secondary.

"I'm enjoying it - I love it here. I like the players and they're really good to work with. The place is first-class.

"But no-one can make any assumptions about next season, whether we stay up or not. The players haven't mentioned next season to me. The one priority is to escape from the horrible thought of relegation.

"I don't think anyone is thinking beyond the end of the season.

"I took on a battle that I knew wasn't going to be easy. Once you take it on, you want to win it. People said I might take the soft option, put my feet up, and not bother with it.

"But the challenge was there and I want to achieve it for everybody here because I think this club is at the beginning of something very good, and they deserve to be at the top.

"They deserve it because of the facilities and the type of people who are here and the money that has been put into the club.

"They've had an exciting ride for the last few years - there's always been something happening. There have been highs and lows and not too many dull moments.

"In the end, though, you get what you deserve in terms of the reality of the situation.

"I've never been in a relegation fight before. I was very close to it when I first went to Tottenham, but we weren't in the bottom three.

"Some clubs are there every year and if they escape, they've done maybe as well as winning the cup or the League.

"It's all relative because teams at the bottom are not capable of doing what Manchester United and Arsenal do. It's not like Monopoly - we don't all start on a level playing field with the same money.''

Venables today goes head-to-head with fellow former England boss Bobby Robson and admits: "I don't think I'll be a manager like him at 68 in ten years' time.

"But it's brilliant that Bobby has still got that enthusiasm. I have a lot of respect for him. We all know this is one of the most passionate places to play football and when these teams meet it's gigantic.

"My first experience here was at Sunderland and I thought that was great. But I wasn't too thrilled with the result.

"Newcastle have got a comfort zone which we haven't. Before their game at Everton I said that if they lost and we won at home to Charlton it would have been harder for them.

"But they drew so I think they are OK now.''

The Magpies inflicted a humiliating 3-1 home defeat on Boro in October and Ince recalled: "It was a terrible performance.

"They ran all over us, so we owe our fans something for that. We'll be fired up for this one.

"They're all pressure games now for us and it's down to me, the coach and the gaffer to rally the troops for every match.

"It's important as captain to pull players aside after a game and ask if they have any problems.''

Boro have gone eight games in all competitions without a win and scored only three goals in their last six. "We need to find a ruthless streak if we're going to survive,'' said Ince. "You've got to have bottle in this situation. If we battle, we've got every chance of staying up.''

l Inter Milan centre back Fabio Macellari is reported to have turned down a £2.5m move to Boro.