Football: Branca steals Boro limelight

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KIDOLOGY or the sign of a club whose desperation to win promotion overrides all? Paul Gascoigne, carried off midweek with a gashed leg and bruised ankle - the medical prognosis being out for two games at least - returned to start for First Division Middlesbrough against Bury at the Riverside Stadium. But his performance was overshadowed by a hat-trick from Marco Branca, Boro's former Internazionale striker, as Bryan Robson's side got their Premiership promotion drive back in gear with a 4-0 win.

The Colombian Hamilton Ricard headed in from close range to give Boro a 29th-minute lead. Then Branca took over, scoring at 10-minute intervals from the 63rd minute. The win kept Boro fourth, two points adrift of automatic promotion.

"After the week we have had, a win was important for us," Viv Anderson, the Boro assistant manager, said. "We put our chances away and hopefully we can go on from there."

Meanwhile, Nottingham Forest extended their lead to six points with a 3-0 win over Bradford at Valley Parade. But it was at the cost of a serious injury to the centre-back Colin Cooper. "He had an X-ray after the match and we will be taking him to hospital in Nottingham to have the problem examined," the Forest manager, Dave Bassett, said. "It is ligament damage, but whether it is cruciate ligament damage we won't know until he has been examined."

In the play-off places, Ipswich Town and Sheffield United were held to home draws by Tranmere Rovers and Norwich City respectively, the Canaries coming back from 2-0 down at Bramall Lane to level at 2-2. But Birmingham City, held 1-1 at home by Port Vale, were unable to take advantage. Brum's Peter Ndlovu was hero and villain when first he equalised in the 87th minute but three minutes later had a potentially match-winning penalty saved.

At the bottom, Stoke City's caretaker manager, Alan Durban, won his first game in charge - a six-pointer against the fellow relegation candidates Portsmouth - when Kyle Lightbourne's 90th-minute strike made it 2-1.

Manchester City, twice in front against Wolves at Molineux, the second time against 10 men, could only draw when Paul Simpson, formerly of Maine Road, gave the Midlanders a 2-2 draw in the 85th-minute.

Finally, issues settled yesterday included Dundee's promotion to the Premier Division in Scotland after their 1-1 draw at Raith and Doncaster Rovers' demotion to the GM Vauxhall Conference.