PAUL GASCOIGNE has taken up bingo to while away the hours he used to devote to drinking, but on Saturday, whenever he neared the full house, his last number just would not come up.
Middlesbrough had a monopoly on possession against a depleted but undaunted Leicester, but, try as Gascoigne might, he could not create that killer pass or that final deft touch. Everything else was there - the step-over, the back-heel turn, the flashy drive with the outside of the boot, even the devastating acceleration which, for one exhilarating second-half moment, turned the clock back and left five defenders lame and leaden-footed. Everything except the pass for the game-winning. It all just fizzled out limply, like the exhilarating run which sped him into a yawning ocean of space in front of goal, but ended with Kasey Keller simply bending down and calmly picking the ball off his toe.
Following this last round of Premiership matches before England's squad for the friendly against France is announced, should Glenn Hoddle's ouija board receive a knock saying Gascoigne is calling about a call up, this will be held against him. And he was competing against a midfield without Muzzy Izzet and Neil Lennon and against a side so short of strikers that Matt Elliott and Steve Walsh spent a half each trying to replace Emile Heskey.
Of course, Middlesbrough's lack of goals was not all Gascoigne's fault. "We missed three very good chances," said manager Bryan Robson. "Hamilton Ricard had one and Brian Deane had two." But praise must go to the American goalkeeper, Keller.
"He's not sure of his future because his contract runs out at the end of the season and his performances of late have not been the Kasey Keller we know," said his manager, Martin O'Neill. "But he's come roaring back."
Keller was extremely brave to stand steadfast as Ricard rampaged towards him and he did well to fling out a left foot to turn away Deane's goal- bound poke in the 68th minute. But his best moment was on the half hour, when Gascoigne's long free-kick was met by Colin Cooper on the back post. Cooper's header cleared Keller, but somehow the keeper, cat-like, curled his back and clawed the ball from behind himself.
For O'Neill, the save earned a proud point, but for Middlesbrough and Gascoigne it brought up a disappointing run of numbers: two points from the last 15, no win in 1999, and no goals in 283 minutes.
Middlesbrough (5-3-2): Schwarzer; Fleming, Festa, Pallister, Cooper, Gordon; Mustoe (Stamp, 74), Gascoigne, Townsend; Deane (Beck, 74), Ricard. Substitutes not used: Vickers, Maddison, Beresford (gk).
Leicester (5-3-2): Keller; Impey, Kaamark, Taggart, Walsh, Guppy; Zagorakis, Parker (Campbell, 52), Ullathorne; Elliott, Cottee. Substitutes not used: Fenton, Wilson, Oakes, Arphexad (gk).
Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).
Bookings: Middlesbrough: Festa, Mustoe, Stamp. Leicester: Taggart, Walsh, Ullathorne.
Man of the match: Keller.
Attendance: 34,631.Reuse content