Football: Gayle finds the perfect balance

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The Independent Online
Wimbledon 2 Middlesbrough 2

Gayle 26, 76 Mustoe 23, Ricard 37

Half-time: 1-2 Attendance: 14,114

IT WAS never pretty but, boy, was it exciting. In conditions that would have been considered unpleasant for even the most hardy ducks, Wimbledon and Middlesbrough ruffled each other's feathers for 90 pulsating minutes yesterday and deserved a share of the points.

Brian Deane, Boro's pounds 3.5m signing from Benfica, must have wondered why on earth he had exchanged Lisbon for south-east London as he started his first game for his new club in the most inclement weather of the English season so far. Deane, formerly of Leeds and Sheffield United, had a quiet game but played his part in a typically committed performance by his team on an energy-sapping pitch that became increasingly sodden by a downpour that let up for a mere 10 minutes midway through the second half.

Middlesbrough's goals came from Robbie Mustoe, finishing off a glorious three-man counter-attack, and from Hamilton Ricard - the Colombian's eighth Premiership goal of the season.

Marcus Gayle equalised twice for the home team with headers, one at the near post from a corner, the other at the far post from Kenny Cunningham's accurate right-wing cross. Gayle was at the centre of almost every Wimbledon attack and missed a string of other chances. Midway through the first half, he shot wide from 10 yards when it seemed easier to score. Gayle almost got his hat-trick in the dying moments but the Middlesbrough goalkeeper Marlon Beresford was controversially adjudged to have prevented another Gayle header from crossing the line. Joe Kinnear and the Wimbledon fans were furious with the decision.

Defeat would have been hard on Middlesbrough, however. Counter-attacking dangerously, they were the better team for almost an hour, yet were without the likes of Paul Gascoigne, Gary Pallister, Marco Branca and their regular goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, who was on the bench still recovering from injury.

Boro, who slipped one place to fourth, may still look in a false position but any team who can come to Wimbledon in driving rain, soak up an aerial bombardment and end up sharing the spoils deserves credit. "When we relegated last time we were OK when I had my full side out but we didn't have the strength in depth," said Robson. "Every time we had injuries and suspensions, we couldn't cope and got beaten."

Robson paid a special tribute to Ricard who was outstanding in the first half even though his goal looked suspiciously offside. "I thought he was excellent, especially his link-up play. He only faded when he got less service."

Kinnear was convinced his side, which had lost their two previous games, was robbed of three points by the referee, Stephen Lodge, who at one point warned the Dons boss for coming too far out of the dug-out, and by Peter Walton, one of the two assistant referees.

"The linesman said Brian Deane was not inferfering with play for Ricard's goal. In that case what was he doing on the pitch?" fumed Kinnear. "He was yards offside."

"Certain people have come down here although they don't have the courage to put their flags up like they do at Liverpool or Old Trafford. We're keeping a check on that. We fill in forms after matches, the same as every team. That linesman will get zilch."

Kinnear was also convinced that Gayle had a perfectly good goal disallowed at the start of the second half when he was ruled offside, and that his last-gasp effort had actually crossed the line.

"Theirs is given, ours aren't," said Kinnear. "They were defending for their lives at the end. Arguably Marcus could have come out with five goals."

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