The Carling Cup Final kicks off on sunday as Bolton Wanderers and Middlesbrough meet
for the 44th staging of the Final, and the fourth to be staged at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. It's Middlesbrough's third appearance in the showpiece
and Bolton's second,both clubs are aiming to win the competition for the first time and qualify for their first ever European campaigns.Bolton boss
Sam Allardyce and Middlesbrough manager Steve McClaren have one thing in common ahead of Sunday's Carling Cup final.Neither has yet won a major
domestic trophy as player or manager in the English game.The game is the first showpiece of the 2003/04 season and promises to be one of the most
closely fought finals in recent years.
Sam Allardyce and Steve McClaren go head-to-head at the Millennium Stadium on Sunday in a bid to become the first Englishman to lift a domestic trophy
since Brian Little won the League Cup with Aston Villa in 1996.The Bolton and Middlesbrough bosses are two of the rising stars of the game and their
names are regularly thrown into the hat whenever a big job comes along.
Such has been Allardyce's success in recent months that he has been tipped as a
possible Manager of the Year candidate and was this week touted as a potential replacement for under-pressure Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier.Sam would
love nothing better than to be lacing up his boots on Sunday.Instead the Bolton manager will be fixing his tie and brushing his suit in the bowels of
Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.Old habits die hard when you are a former player and Allardyce was a good enough centre-half to earn a living for 21
years.This is the first time in his career he has reached a cup final and Allardyce will feel a touch jealous in the minutes leading up to the Carling
Cup final with Middlesbrough.Allardyce is more concerned about getting a victory and the place in the UEFA Cup which follows.Bolton have maintained
their status against the odds and winning the Carling Cup would be a signal of their rapid progress.
Likewise, McClaren, who has previously been suggested as a future England
manager, has found himself talked of in connection with big jobs, the latest being Chelsea should Claudio Ranieri make way at the end of the
season.McClaren may be a mild-mannered man off the touchline, but on it, his animation has become a feature of his reign. More than once, a water
bottle has been sent skidding across the technical area after being dispatched by the boot of a man who is not afraid to let his feelings
show.McClaren served his time under the likes of Jim Smith and Sir Alex Ferguson he gleaned all he could from two hugely experienced men before
launching his management career at Boro.Steve McClaren watched his men brush aside Arsenal to reach the Carling Cup final and then insisted there is
no point in going to Cardiff and returning without the trophy.
Bolton have the upper hand over Middlesbrough in terms of head-to-heads between the two - with 47 wins to 33, with 25 draws - but Boro have won their
one and only previous meeting in this competition with victory in 1997 - the year the North East club lost in the final to Leicester City.Boro have a
very good record in domestic cup competitions over the last decade, this is their fourth major final in seven years - although have failed to win the
previous three - meaning they are still looking for their very first trophy.
Bolton will be at full strength for the final - aside from long-term injury victims
Ricardo Gardner and Florent Laville.
Likely starting line-up:
1) Jussi Jaaskelainen
2) Nicky Hunt
3) Simon Charlton
4) Emerson Thome
5) Bruno N'Gotty
6) Ivan Campo
7) Kevin Nolan
8) Jay-Jay Okocha (captain)
9) Youri Djorkaeff
10) Kevin Davies
11) Stelios Giannakopoulos
Subs from: Henrik Pedersen, Per Frandsen, Anthony Barness, Kevin Poole, Donovan Ricketts, Javi Moreno, Ibrahim Ba, Dwight Pezarrossi and Ricardo Vaz
Middlesbrough manager Steve McClaren has few worries over his team selection going into
the game at Cardiff on Sunday.
Boro are almost certain to stick with 10 of the team that lost the Tyne-Tees derby to Newcastle at the weekend.
Likely starting line-up:
1) Mark Schwarzer
2) Danny Mills
3) Franck Queudrue
4) Ugo Ehiogu
5) Gareth Southgate (captain)
6) George Boateng
8) Gaizka Mendieta
9) Joseph Desire-Job
11) Boudewijn Zenden
Subs from: Michael Ricketts, Massimo Maccarone, Szilard Nemeth, Stuart Parnaby, Colin Cooper, Chris Riggott, Andrew Davies and Brad Jones.
[Edited on 26/2/04 by TRD]