Clarke forecasts Boro scrap

Steve Clarke is expecting Middlesbrough to scrap for their Barclays Premier League lives at the Boleyn Ground on Sunday.

Boro arrive in east London knowing only a win over West Ham United will be good enough to extend their eleven-year stay in the top-flight. Even then, Gareth Southgate's side need both Hull City and Newcastle United to lose - the former with a five-goal swing in Boro's favour - to hand them a lifeline.

Middlesbrough's task will be made even harder by the absence of England winger Stewart Downing, who has been ruled out with a foot injury suffered in the 1-1 draw with Aston Villa last Saturday.

Despite the odds being stacked against them, Hammers first-team coach Clarke insists the Teessiders will be desperate to win at the Boleyn Ground for the first time since April 2000.

At the same time, West Ham need to win themselves to ensure they finish ninth in the table, while an emphatic victory combined with a heavy Tottenham Hotspur defeat at Liverpool could see them climb above Spurs into eighth.

"They have to come here believing that they can stay up so for them it's a massive game," said Clarke. "We have lost our last two [against Liverpool and at Everton] so we want to finish on a high.

"We've had a reasonable season and we want to finish it well. To finish it with a victory in front of our home fans would be good. We have an outside opportunity of catching the team above us, which we want to try and do. Also, if we lose the match then Manchester City below us can catch us, so we have to try and at least consolidate ninth position and try to get eighth."

"I'm not sure Downing's injury will make it a lot easier but he's a very good player, he's injured and he's out and that's a very big blow for them. They have other good players who can come in and replace him and I'm sure whoever they put out will be fighting for their football club because they're fighting for survival."

While Boro will be missing one England international, West Ham could welcome one of their own back into the starting lineup.

Carlton Cole returned from six weeks out with a groin injury as a half-time substitute in last Saturday's 3-1 reverse at Everton, and Clarke revealed that the striker could be included from the kick-off this weekend.

"I'm sure he will feature. He will definitely feature, but whether he starts or he comes from the bench we will decide on Saturday."

Cole has emerged as one of the Hammers' most important players this season, leading the line with pace and power and scoring eleven goals in all competitions.

Clarke believes a number of factors have contributed to the 25-year-old's all-round improvement this term.

"I think it's a combination of the change of manager and fresh impetus from the player. I think he is maturing as a player and as a person. Some people mature early and some people a little bit later and I think Carlton is a late maturer.

"His performances this season have been excellent and certainly, when he went out of the side, we missed his presence in the team."

"He has always had the potential. When he was at Chelsea I was his coach in the youth team. I knew his potential but unfortunately for Carlton, it's taken him a little bit longer for him to realise his potential than maybe it should have done, but hopefully he's started the road towards that this season and he'll continue down it next season."

Cole won his first two full England caps earlier this year and Clarke put the striker's case forward to add to that tally when Fabio Capello's side take on Kazakhstan and Andorra in 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in early June.

"He's fully fit. He was out for six weeks with an injury he sustained on international duty. I don't pick the England squad, it's up to Mister Capello to do that. But if he's concerned about his fitness then there is no reason to be concerned because he's fully fit."