TERRY VENABLES breezed into crisis club Middlesbrough yesterday and insisted: "My head is on the line as much as anyone.''

The former England coach, who has come to the rescue of Boro boss Bryan Robson, took charge of his first training session on the eve of today's derby clash with in-form Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.

Venables' late arrival this week, because of TV commitments, means manager Robson will pick the side for the crucial Wear-Tees tussle before handing over control to his new first-team coach.

Robson has faced calls to quit from fans sickened by Boro's freefall, which has seen them lose eight of their last nine matches in all competitions and land in the Premiership basement.

But Venables yesterday insisted Robson isn't the fall guy and that, if Boro fail to win their relegation battle, the mud will stick on everyone - himself included.

"I don't see it that I've got nothing to lose here,'' said Venables. "I've come to try to do a particularly difficult job. My head is on the line the same as everybody else's.

"I've always said in life that I would rather be sorry for what I did do than what I didn't do.

"It's going to be tough and we're just going to have a good go at it.''

Boro's initial move to appoint Venables as manager, with Robson agreeing to step down to first-team coach, collapsed over complications with the former Tottenham boss's TV schedule.

But Boro chairman Steve Gibson revived talks last weekend when Venables accepted the high-powered coaching role until the end of the season.

"I thought that, if I didn't come to this part of the world when Bryan had asked me, I wouldn't have felt good about it,'' said Venables.

"I would always have wondered what would have happened here, whether they would have done well or not.

"Now that I'm here, all I can do is give everything. I'm living up here until the job is done and I just hope that takes us where we want to be.

"My input so far has been brief. I arrived on Thursday night and I met Bryan very early this morning to discuss a few things. Bryan has set the team up this week and he'll pick the side.

"But we'll work together and we know how to ask each other difficult questions.

"I can't turn the club round on my own. We've all got to do our bit to make it work and if we do that, we've got a chance. Anything less than that, and we haven't.

"I can't see any problem with my role. Bryan is staying in place - he's the future of the club. He's the manager and I'm the head coach who takes care of the team.

"All he's done is employ a coach. If it was anyone else but me, it wouldn't be seen by some as so outrageous.

"Bryan has got a good relationship with the chairman and they feel the individuals here have just small parts in the big picture.

"The set-up here is absolutely fantastic. I think it offers a great future to youngsters. The club have got a target but I think that, in the short-term, there is a problem and we're all going to work as hard as we can to try to solve it.

"The players were sharp in training and they were firing. It was difficult for me to get the jaw going in that cold wind, but I enjoyed it.

"I've got the right skipper here in Paul Ince. I've worked with him before with England and he wants to win.

"But I sense a mood of determination among all the lads. I think they're concerned about the situation. They look like they've got a good attitude and spirit.

"I think things will be fine as far as getting a reaction from the players is concerned, but I can't say everything is going to be fine as regards results.

"I've seen a lot of videos of the side in the last ten days. I purposely looked at ones where the results weren't so good and there were things I could see straightaway that needed attention.

"I've spoken to Bryan and he agrees about those things.

"I'd like to look at the first half at Sunderland from on high because I think half-time for coaches is very important. After half-time I'll go down to the dug-out because you want more involvement then.''

Robson, Venables' number two at Euro 96, maintained: "What we have is a partnership and it worked great when we were with England. I hope we have as much success now as we had then.

"Terry knows the game inside out. People talk about roles but the only thing we're interested in is making Middlesbrough a good team.

"As Terry says, we're both straight talkers and we both love the game. If Terry asks me something I'll say how I feel and he'll take that on board.

"It doesn't mean he'll change his decision, but he knows he'll get a straight answer from me.

"We all know Terry's reputation for coaching players and getting the best out of them - and that's what he'll be doing.

"I feel Terry's arrival has lifted the burden off my shoulders. He's a tremendous coach and I felt we needed more experience. When you keep getting beaten it wears you down.

"But it's not just about me. It's about everybody at the club, the players, the staff and the fans, and hopefully this will give us all a lift.

"The players know Terry is selecting the side from now on and they'll be trying to impress him.''

Boro could have only one recognised striker on duty today - broken elbow victim Hamilton Ricard.

The Colombian will be pressed into action because Boro's six other frontmen are either doubtful, injured or suspended.

Brian Deane and Noel Whelan are given only "50-50'' chances of being fit, while Alen Boksic, Andy Campbell and Joseph-Desire Job are injured and Carlos Marinelli is suspended.

The good news for Boro is that midfield linchpin Ince has recovered from a knock.

Venables, meanwhile, yesterday refused to completely discount the possibility of returning to coaching in the future.

But he effectively ruled out a reprise of his role with England if the appointment of Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson backfires on the FA.

"The FA have got to do what they feel is right,'' said Venables, who was disappointed he wasn't approached when Kevin Keegan quit in October.

"I didn't ask for the job and I didn't run away from it. I'd have to see what was in front of me at the time, but I don't think I'd be available for England again.'