Fair's Fair

The 'fair play factor' is not, as had previously been claimed, a major worry as Middlesbrough - the team West Ham are relying on to do them a favour - travel to Bolton Wanderers on Sunday.

The Hammers have to do better at Birmingham than the Trotters do against Middlesbrough - which mean a reliance on Boro to get at least a point at the Reebok stadium - to give ourselves any chance at all of staying up.

Middlesbrough are contenders to qualify for the UEFA Cup through the Fair Play League, and Trevor Brooking admits: "It's a worrying one only if you linger on it too long. It just depends how the game goes.

"If Middlesbrough start well the occasion and the match involvement takes over then, but if Bolton score early and Middlesbrough are conscious about not picking up cards it is not the ideal scenario for us.

"Unless you watch the game you can't say whether it is a factor or not. I can't say who the nearest rival to them is but certainly I have heard that one mentioned.

"Once their game has kicked off you will know what is going on there but you can only look and see how they performed later.

"We have got enough problems trying to make sure we don't trip up and try to end on a high note first."

Reports this week, however, that Boro are top of the Fair Play League, are erroneous, for it is Manchester City who top the table - even if Kevin Keegan has admitted it is an injustice to qualify for Europe in such a way.

And Gordon Cox, of the Middlesbrough website, has some good news for Trevor.

"It is fractions of a decimal point, and Manchester City's average coefficient is 8.21 while ours is 8.15," he says.

"It looks relatively slim - but unless Manchester City get three players sent off and there is a pitch invasion then we probably wouldn't be able to do it, and that isn't a factor in our thinking at all."

And, speaking on their official website, coach Steve Harrison, formerly, like Glenn Roeder, an England coach, promises that Middlesbrough will not be taking it easy.

"We need to make sure our away season finishes on a high. It hasn't been a good one this year, but we have the opportunity to finish on a positive note which we can take into the summer - and we can finish in the top 10," he says.

"So there is a lot riding on it, not just for Bolton, but for ourselves as well.

"The game does matter and this has been the message all week. It is not an end of season game, it is live on Sky, I know Glenn Roeder very well, and we have to give our all on Sunday.

"It is the right thing to do and it is the professional thing to do - and we don't want to end on a defeat."

Steve wants to give some reward to the travelling fans who have suffered the worst away scoring record apart from Sunderland's this season.

"Every time we go away we hear them make a lot of noise, they are different class," says Steve.

As for Bolton, he adds: "Fair credit to Sam and his team, they have 'footballed' their way out of trouble in many respects, though of course they are not 100% out of it.

"They are a good side and it will be a task and a half, but it will be an occasion - but I can only emphasise there is one heck of a lot riding on it for us as well as them - we want to finish in a better position than last season."

Back to Trevor, who adds: "The lads with Glenn picked up 15 points from eight games, and now we've got 21 from 10 - they have shown a lot of spirit despite having their moments of criticism this year, but I can only say they've really hung in there and shown a lot of pride.

"And that is all I ask on Sunday, that when they come off the field they have given their all and that nobody could say we spluttered at the last hurdle. The chance is there to let this match linger in the memory cells for a long time, and the mood is good.

"What I wouldn't want to happen is to come off with Bolton having slipped up in some way and we haven't got a win - at the last hurdle, that would be the nightmare scenario.

"Wherever I go, every neutral in the country seems to want us to stay up, you've got a whole wave of emotion that's carrying us all along.

"But life doesn't often have happy endings and we're all realistic enough to know that it's out of our hands.

"Steve Bruce gets his side playing one way only - and that is with effort, commitment and spirit. I don't expect anything other than them being right up there in our faces.

"As for us, we are in a situation we've been in for a little while. We just have to try and believe we can win and then see what happens elsewhere."