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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Boro Hosts Local Rival Newcastle

LONDON -- When Brazilian star Juninho joined Middlesbrough four months ago, the club was on the climb.


Now, with his countryman Branco set to become his teammate, the club is on a six-game losing streak and plunging toward possible relegation from the Premier League to the First Division.


Suddenly, promoted Middlesbrough is no longer a force in the title race and the critics are saying that player-manager Bryan Robson needs to sign nine more Brazilians to halt the slide.


Although Branco must wait for a work permit before he can play for the English club, Juninho can hardly wait. After all, Middlesbrough has the toughest job of all Saturday, facing runaway league leader Newcastle.


After two weeks out because of a knee injury, Juninho returned to the team for Wednesday's FA Cup game against Wimbledon while Branco sat in the stands with his wife, Stella.


He couldn't have been impressed.


Even with the creative Juninho back to try and unlock the Wimbledon defense, Robson's team lacked imagination and looked little better than in its six league losses.


Now 'Boro hosts neighbor Newcastle, which is on course for its first league title in 67 years. The Magpies are nine points ahead of second-place Manchester United, with Liverpool two points further adrift.


Back when Juninho joined in October, Robson hoped his team would be up there with them challenging for the title.


But 'Boro has slipped from an all-time high third place to 12th in the 20-team standings. Robson, with Juninho and Branco when he is available to play, has to turn the team's fortunes around. A good result against local rival Newcastle will do wonders for confidence.


The other big game Saturday is Manchester United against defending champion Blackburn, which has climbed to sixth after a run of solid performances.


Blackburn striker Alan Shearer heads the scorers' list with 30 goals so far this term. Shearer has scored three times in four different games.


By contrast, Manchester United's leading scorer, Paul Scholes, has only 11. The Reds won 4-2 at Wimbledon last week helped by two goals from in-form French striker Eric Cantona.


(For schedule, see Scorecard.)