Football: Gordon supplies tonic for Robson

Scott Barnes says Boro's wing wonder has an eye for the spectacular
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THE flirtation with top-flight football at Middlesbrough has centred around big- name headlines. Bryan Robson's first fancy in 1995- 96 involved the Brazilians Juninho and Emerson, and Fabrizio Ravanelli, the White Feather from Italy.

His second stab began with Paul Merson and Paul Gascoigne. Even when Merson defected to Aston Villa and Gascoigne dried out in a clinic there was always the sub-plot of Gary Pallister, Robson and Viv Anderson returning to Old Trafford and coming away with Middlesbrough's first win there in 68 years.

But, beyond the glare, Dean Gordon has quietly gone about his business, patrolling the Boro left flank with a distinctive loping, long-legged style, flinging in fizzing balls or caressing his crosses towards Hamilton Ricard and Brian Deane. If Middlesbrough are to grab a few more headlines by recording their first FA Cup victory at Old Trafford for 55 years today, Gordon will hold the key.

He arrived at the Riverside without a fanfare, a pounds 900,000 snip from relegated Crystal Palace. Born in Croydon, he had been at Selhurst Park since he was 16, picking up a handful of England Under-21 and B caps on his way to 201 Palace appearances. Robson had noticed the 25-year- old during his days with England's junior teams. "He is strong, powerful, quick and versatile," Robson said at the time. "He has a great left foot and will score a couple of spectacular goals."

Gordon has missed just one of Middlesbrough's 21 games this season and has already scored the promised couple of goals. Both were spectacular: the 20-yard volley to put Middlesbrough two-up in the pre-Christmas dress rehearsal for today's game and, even better, his 30-yard drive, low and true, into the corner of the Coventry net a month earlier. "Dean does that every day in training," said his captain Andy Townsend after that game, "although he does put two or three on the railway track as well."

Gordon's form has carried him to the verge of an England call-up, perhaps behind Graeme Le Saux but probably ahead of Philip Neville and definitely in front of Andy Hinchcliffe. "He's very quick and very disciplined, keeping his wide position well and getting up and down," says Bernie Slaven, a doyen of Boro in the late 1980s and now a commentator on the local Century FM Radio. "He is the main supply of the Middlesbrough team. Several sides come to the Riverside and try to shut him off which shows how important he is - Liverpool tried in the first half on Boxing Day but it didn't really work and on Monday Derby put Jacob Laursen on him. He got one cross in all game and from that came Middlesbrough's only goal."

Not only that but it had been Gordon's low cross which had created Middlesbrough's first in the famous 3-2 victory over United, and the week before he had picked out Deane's shiny pate for the only goal of the game against West Ham.

"I wouldn't say he was the best defender in the country but left wing- backs would have to be something very special to be better than Gordon at the moment," said Slaven. This may not be the best of recommendations because after the victory at Old Trafford, Slaven scooped the headlines. Before the game, he had predicted Middlesbrough would not trouble Old Trafford history and promised to bare his bottom in the window of the most upmarket department store his adopted home town had to offer if they should. "I'm making no rash predictions this time," said Slaven, leaving the limelight at last to Gordon.