Football: Gascoigne nips in for a swift half

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers 0

Middlesbrough 0

Attendance: 27,482

IT SAYS everything about this turgid spectacle that a brief, half- paced cameo from Paul Gascoigne stood out as something far better than it actually was. Bryan Robson bowed to the vocal demands of Middlesbrough's travelling supporters when he brought Gascoigne into the action for the last 20 minutes. Despite being caught in possession as often as he escaped Blackburn's attention, he produced a couple of tiny sparks that almost ignited this lifeless affair.

One measured through ball for Hamilton Ricard could have yielded a winner, if Ricard had not been penalised for fouling Stephane Henchoz, and, in the last minute, a foul by Keith Gillespie on Ricard gave Gascoigne a free-kick from just his sort of range but struck the top of the crossbar.

There was so little else to record at either end that the old maestro's short and sporadic contribution virtually made him the star of the show, if this lifeless spectacle could be flattered by being described as such.

Blackburn, despite fielding three front runners in Chris Sutton, Ashley Ward and Matt Jansen, showed little idea of how to provide a service for them. After a totally barren first half, Jansen at least showed a willingness to forage for himself, exchanging ground passes with Sutton and putting in a low, angled shot that asked the most serious question of the afternoon off Mark Schwarzer.

A flick from Jansen also put Jason Wilcox clear soon after, and a strong run from Callum Davidson ended with an equally strong shot just past the post. That apart, it was a story of crosses that never reached the Middlesbrough box or, if they did, unerringly sought out the head of Gary Pallister.

"Our quality in the box let us down," said Brian Kidd who knew that his side really needed three points if they were to start to ease the pressure on themselves at the bottom of the table.

"We got ourselves into good positions, but our final third let us down. Nothing dropped for us and they got so many men behind the ball."

From Middlesbrough's point of view, it was a point gained to increase their sense of relative security in mid table. Robson was quite candid about their objectives on the day. "It's not up to us as the away team to entertain the fans; that's for the home side to do," he said. "After the run we've had, we've just got to get some points away from home."

Robson explained that he had held back Gascoigne long past the point when the away fans were calling for his introduction in order to save him for the home game against Wimbledon tomorrow. Keeping him in reserve when they have matches to win is a luxury he cannot afford, however.

Before Gascoigne's arrival they had created just one vestige of a chance, when Ricard got in the way of Robbie Stockdale's hard hit cross and deflected it over the bar.

However, as soon as Gascoigne arrived, things began to happen. Not all of them were beneficial - as when he was booked for arguing after fouling Sutton - but some were replete with the possibilities that had not been there previously.

"When Gazza's on, he can always measure a pass," said Kidd. "As soon as he got the free- kick, we knew it was in his range - and he's a cracking lad as well." More than can be said of the match.