TEESSIDER Darren Williams is licking his lips at the prospect of lining up against his home-town club this afternoon - but he stresses: "I don't want Middlesbrough to be relegated."

The 23-year-old utility man took some verbal abuse three seasons ago when he grabbed the winning goal at the Riverside Stadium, but he doesn't harbour any ill-feelings against the club he supported as a boy.

He admitted: "I want Boro to stay up because I look forward to playing in derby games like this - they are the first matches I look for when the fixture list comes out.

"As long as we do better than them and they stay up, then fair enough."

Central defender Tony Mowbray was Williams' big hero when he stood as a schoolboy fan at Ayresome Park, but his hopes of being picked up by his home town club never materialised as he joined York City as a youngster.

Sunderland manager Peter Reid - on the advice of youth team coach Ricky Sbragia - signed the promising youngster for a bargain £50,000.

And Williams became a hero with Wearside fans - and a villain with their Teesside counterparts - when he was called up to do a marking job on Brazilian ace Juninho at the Riverside in April 1997 and ended up the match-winner.

But his first-half goal, though it will live long in his memory, was not enough to prevent Sunderland slipping straight back into the First Division.

Williams recalled: "I hadn't been at Sunderland very long and I was given the job of man-marking Juninho. He didn't come on until the second half and in the meantime I managed to score.

"I played in the York side which won in the League cup away to Manchester United but playing against Boro that day is one of the best memories of my career. It was certainly my favourite goal."

Williams, who signed a new five-year contract at Sunderland this season after having asked for a transfer because he wasn't getting regular first-team football, knows he has to be on top of his game to stay in the team, and being switched about does not help his consistency.

He deputised for right-back Chris Makin in the 2-0 victory over Everton on Monday night, switching from his ball-winning midfield role.

He said: "My favourite position is in midfield and now the competition for places here is really hotting up.

"You say to yourself don't play badly or you're out - there is always someone there ready to take you place.

"I know I am constantly looking over my shoulder, but it does keep you on your toes.

"Being a utility man can be a bit of a nightmare because there is always the chance of being moved about - I was really enjoying playing in midfield.

"There is always the fear that if you switch to another position and don't play well you will be out - that's how fierce the competition is. I seem to have played just about everywhere apart from goalkeeper and centre-forward.

"But there is no malice among the players - it's all about playing for places, and that's football.

"I'm just happy to see my name on the team-sheet.

"I still have a burning desire to play first-team football and that will always be with me wherever I am."

Reid is delighted with the form of Williams, and appreciates his versatility.

He said: "He is a fantastic player to have around.

"He has done an excellent job in the middle of the park and he slotted straight into the right-back position.

"He had a couple of years dealing with muscle problems and injuries and he is the type of player who needs to be fit - he is a good athlete.

"This is one of his best runs in the side and I don't think the supporters fully realise the job he does.

"He is one of those uncomplicated players who has not got a trick - he just gets on, shuts down, passes it, heads it well and just does the basics.