Bryan Robson yesterday named Alen Boksic as the best front man in the Premiership but warned: "We must wrap him in cotton wool."

The Middlesbrough boss ordered complete rest for Boksic before the test against Spurs at the Riverside tonight.

The Croatian striker was 'sore' after his two-goal debut at Coventry, his first game for three months.

But he will be launched against George Graham's side with Robson warning: "He is one of the best strikers in the world and if he'd played for a France, Germany or Holland he'd be a world figure. But Croatia don't get the same recognition, even though they have been to finals and done well.

"I played against Michel Platini and Zico and I loved them, they were greats. And the player who excites me now when I watch him is Alen.

"He was unbelievable when Marseille won the European Cup but he is at his peak now, at 30 with all the knowledge and ability.

"But we have to be careful with him because he is an explosive player and since he arrived I've realised exactly how he does play - in games it is either walking or sprinting.

"There's nothing in between those two, that's what makes him so exciting. Now my job is to keep him away from injury and in a Middlesbrough shirt.

"Myself and the medical staff will have to monitor him, I've realised I've really got to gauge him like that.

"Up to two years ago he had a good appearances record and he's only had the one injury. But we've got to make the preparation and toning of muscles right. We've got give him rest and not too much to do in training and matches. I've got to keep him playing, because he is the best."

Boro are paying major money in wages for the £2.5m front man but Robson snapped: "Just ask the Middlesbrough fans what they think. Ask them if they want to see him in the team or not.

"They were disappointed we didn't sign Juninho, and so was I, but Alen was less than half the price and he's the best in the Premiership. I backed my judgment and hope it pays off.

"We haven't given him any goal targets or anything - in fact one of his qualities is making chances for others. All I want is to see him in a Middlesbrough shirt."

Robson also praised the league debut of midfielder Christian Karembeu. "What impressed me was his energy level in the second half, he must have had three Shredded Wheats for breakfast," he said.

Robson will also have a close-up of one of his transfer targets against Spurs, former Dinamo Kiev striker Sergei Rebrov.

"I've seen a lot of him, he's a top goalscorer and a great signing by George Graham," he added.

"Spurs have got a lot of good players and they will be up there competing for Europe. They won't be involved in the Championship or the Champions League places but they will be going for that UEFA Cup spot."

Robson, though, issued a warning after the euphoria of a first-day victory at Highfield Road. "Just because we've won one game doesn't mean we're going to have a healthy season," he added. "The good thing is it does make people upbeat, over 3,000 fans have gone to Coventry and enjoyed themselves.

"But I will be able to gauge even after just three games what type of season we're going to have. We play Leeds after Spurs and I've got every respect for them as teams, and if we can do really well against them it sets us up for a really good season." Gary Pallister is likely to recover from an ankle injury.

Boro (from): Schwarzer, Crossley, Cooper, Job, Gavin, Vickers, Okon, Mustoe, Pallister, O'Neill, Ricard, Summerbell, Fleming, Ince, Deane, Campbell, Whelan, Boksic, Karembeu.

l CONGRATULATIONS to Michael Brown of Shildon for correctly answering that new Boro signing Noel Whelan began his career with Leeds United. A signed shirt is on its way.

Ron Maxwell, of Linthorpe, Middlesbrough, won two tickets to tonight's game for identifying that Alen Boksic was the Croatian striker signed this summer.

l TYNE Tees rivals Newcastle and Middlesbrough shared the honours in a thrilling opening match in the Premier Reserve League season.

Newcastle fought back from a goal down to lead by the 50th minute, but a late error by goalkeeper John Karelse allowed Neil Maddison to snatch an equaliser for Boro.

Karelse fumbled a left-wing cross from Alun Armstrong and in the ensuing scramble Maddison squeezed the ball inside the left post.

Boro had taken a 27th minute lead when Newcastle defender Gary Caldwell inexplicably handled a corner from Phil Stamp and Argentinian Carlos Marinelli fired the penalty home. But eight minutes later United were level, Gary Caldwell sending James Coppinger away to score. United stepped up a gear and five minutes into the second half grabbed a deserved lead through Shola Amoebi.

Newcastle: Karelse, Charvet, (McGuffie 59), Serrant, Kerr, S Caldwell, G Caldwell, Gavilan, (Hamilton 77), McClen, Coppinger, Amoebi, Glass. Subs (not used): Boyd, Beharall, McMahon.

Middlesbrough: Beresford, Stamp, (Kell 66), Moore, (Kilgannon 45), Stockdale, Baker, Hanson, Marinelli, Mustoe, Armstrong, Maddison, Hudson. Subs (not used): Grange, Jones, Cade