Football: Gazza out of gas

Middlesbrough 1 Ricard 48 Derby County 1 Wanchope 31 Attendance: 34,121
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The Independent Online
IT HAS been a particularly messy divorce. The jilted party has not been happy, threatening to take legal action. Meanwhile, far from the madness of his native Tyneside, Paul Gascoigne, not so young but free and single once again, got on with the business of his working life yesterday.

It was not a particularly good day at the office for the England outcast. Three games into his Premiership career, he has yet to make an impression - a favourable one, at any rate. He did hit the bar yesterday (during, not after, the match), though that curling 71st-minute free-kick aside he was a pedestrian, peripheral figure.

According to Viv Anderson, Bryan Robson's managerial assistant, Gascoigne is in love again - "with football". His first contribution yesterday could certainly have been described as lovely, wrong-footing Darryl Powell with a drag of the heel and bisecting the Derby defence with a slide-rule pass that would have left Mikkel Beck with a clear scoring chance had the Dane not been flagged offside in his haste to accept it. Before long, however, it was Gascoigne who was flagging.

First, in attempting to dispossess Powell, he managed to clatter one of his colleagues, leaving Andy Townsend a hobbling midfield passenger for several minutes. Then, he floored Stefano Eranio and the ubiquitous Powell with mistimed challenges that ought to have drawn yellow-carded admonition. Instead, it was Anderson who wagged an accusing finger at the portly Boro boy, venturing to the touchline to register disapproval after a succession of woefully misplaced passes.

In fairness to Gascoigne, he was only one of 22 plodding Premiership players. There was a Schnoor on the pitch and the real prospect of snores in the stands until Mark Schwarzer was caught napping on the half-hour. Jumping to gather a hoisted ball from Lars Bohinen, Middlesbrough's Australian goalkeeper allowed Paolo Wanchope's presence to unsettle him. The ball eluded his grasp and the Costa Rican front-man tapped it into an unguarded net.

It was Derby's first goal of the season and the first in the Premiership at the Riverside since 3 May 1997, when a certain Fabrizio Ravanelli scored an injury-time winner from the penalty spot against Aston Villa. Middlesbrough engineered just one chance of note in the opening half yesterday, a flashing Paul Merson shot tipped over by Russell Hoult just before the break. It took them only three minutes of the second half, though, to find the back of Hoult's net.

The goal was made by Merson and finished by Hamilton Ricard, the half- time substitute rising unchallenged in the Derby goalmouth to head the equaliser.