Football: Gazza must start playing the game

Middlesbrough 0 Leeds United 0
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THE talk all week had been about how Glenn Hoddle had betrayed the trust of his England players, principally one Paul Gascoigne. But whose trust was Gazza betraying when he was out wining and dining at a restaurant just two days before the start of the season?

The fact that it was OK with Bryan Robson - "he assured me he only had two glasses of red wine so as far as I'm concerned that's not a problem, that's a nice, sensible night out" - does not make it right. There is also the small matter of the trust of 35,000 season ticket holders who, it seems, are ready to bend over backwards to give Gascoigne all the support he needs.

One despairs of ever seeing a perfectly fit Gazza take the field again. For how many more months and years do we have to listen to managers telling us that he just needs "a few games to get 100 per cent". In the circumstances, I suppose, it was a surprise to see him playing at all, but like any great champion who is past his best it is sometimes better not to see them at all.

Part of the problem could be that Gazza knows he can get by, even in a Premiership game, with only 70 per cent fitness, as he did here. And also that he has a manager who is sympathetic to his problem to an absurd degree. ("It was only Thursday night," said Robson. Only. No wonder our lack of professionalism is frowned upon abroad). Hoddle tried the kid- glove approach with Gazza and where did it get him? Let down - betrayed even - by the player's lack of fitness on the eve of the World Cup.

One would hope that the death of his close friend, David Cheek, at 43, apparently from a heart attack, shortly after his recent night out, will have a sobering effect on the player.

Gascoigne still possesses the ability to make a telling pass and occasionally manoeuvre himself into useful shooting positions - as he did in the 83rd minute when producing the only meaningful shot of the afternoon - but he can no longer get away from opponents. And when he cannot, he allows an errant elbow to come into play, as he did on Saturday when striking Ian Bowyer, for which he was booked.

Robson is putting much store by the potential of his partnership with Paul Merson and certainly the latter does not look as though he will be letting Middlesbrough down this season. Most of Boro's best moves emanated from the former Arsenal player. The only trouble was, he was supposed to be there to finish them, but then Merson is essentially an attacking midfielder. Leeds were similarly found wanting in attack and sorely missed the suspended Jimmy Hasselbaink, never mind the departed Rod Wallace.

It was difficult to judge Boro when so seriously weakened by injury and suspension. At least they had the good sense not to seek a postponement. If only Gazza could learn from his mistakes, too.

Middlesbrough (4-5-1): Schwarzer; Stockdale, Fleming, Gordon, Harrison; Stamp, Mustone (Maddison, h-t), Gascoigne, Townsend, Moore (Beck, 73); Merson. Substitutes not used: Kinder, Ricard, Beresford (gk).

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Hiden, Radebe, Molenaar, Harte; Hopkin, Haaland, Bowyer, Sharpe; Kewell, Wijnhard. Substitutes not used: Ribeiro, Wetherall, Granville, Lilley, Beeney (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow)

Booked: Middlesbrough: Gascoigne. Leeds: Bowyer, Molenaar.

Man of the match: Merson.

Attendance: 34,160.