Football: Gazza opens new book

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The Independent Online
Middlesbrough 0

Leeds United 0

Attendance: 34,162

GLENN HODDLE writes about him, pundits and punters write him off, but less than 48 hours after the death in his hotel of a friend he had spent the night drinking with, Paul Gascoigne wrote another chapter in what one day will be an extraordinary biography by making his first appearance in the Premiership.

It won't be a long chapter because this was just a cameo performance that included all the good, the bad and the ugly incidents that will have peppered all the pages that went before.

The good included a powerful 20-yard run holding off Clyde Wijnhard's rough tackle and finished with a sublime pass of equal length with the outside of his right foot beyond Martin Hiden's outstretched foot through to Andy Townsend. It also included a dazzling dribble past three challengers along the face of the Leeds area.

The bad, though, featured a tendency to lose the ball in dangerous areas and a dreadful pass that nearly ended his young team-mate Robbie Stockdale's season in the fourth minute.

And the ugly was his obligatory booking. It came in the 30th minute for elbowing Lee Bowyer in the face. Although Gascoigne's body shape looked suspicious, Bowyer fell poleaxed remarkably easily.

"He had had a good night's sleep and said he really wanted to play because that's what his mate would have wanted," his manger Bryan Robson said. "After the week he's had, I think he did marvellously."

Gascoigne presence, wearing a black arm band was a bonus for Middlesbrough who are ravaged by injuries and suspensions to such an extent they started without recognised centre-forwards or centre-backs.

All this against Leeds who have, with the same resolute spirit that lifted them to fifth in the League last season. Leeds fielded just one new signing - the pounds 1.5m Dutchman Wijnhard - and one new player, Lee Sharpe, returning after 15 months and lasting 70 minutes.

Wijnhard exposed Middlesbrough's defensive weaknesses straight from the kick-off. He intercepted Dean Gordon's underhit back pass and neatly laid it back from the corner of the six-yard box. If it had not been the 78th second of the season, Harry Kewell would surely have tested Mark Schwarzer more fully with his shot.

This prompted wave after wave of Leeds attacks with Alf Haaland, Bowyer and David Hopkin all probing intelligently, Sharpe flickering into life down the left, Kewell scurrying everywhere and Middlesbrough in general with Gordon in particular defending erratically.

In reply Middlesbrough had Paul Merson, their lone striker. No match for Lucas Radebe and Molenaar in the air, his pace and sharp mind constantly irritated them on the floor. His 25-yard drive that went just wide in the 32nd minute was Middlesbrough's best first-half effort.

After the break, Merson was withdrawn into an area where his passing could come into play, and Phil Stamp and Alan Moore were pushed further forward. In the 48th minute, Merson slipped in Stamp who shot wide. Ten minutes later, Merson's mazy run gave room for Stockdale to cross but the ball was a stud's length away from Townsend sprawling in the centre.

After Middlesbrough's rearrangement Leeds had little to offer. All they could muster was a back heel from Wijnhard and a late volley from Bowyer that Schwarzer was unable to hold. At the other end, Middlesbrough lacked a central striker to convert inviting crosses until, in the 81st minute, the ball fell to Gazza. He had been pulling at his toes as if he had a twinge of cramp but suddenly he worked enough room down the right to win the game. Sadly, his tame shot from the edge of the box flew into the midriff of Nigel Martyn.

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