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Football: Lenient FA let Ince off hook

PAUL INCE escaped a Football Association censure yesterday for the verbal attack he launched against the Liverpool manager, Gerard Houllier, after his transfer to Middlesbrough before the start of the season.

Ince was highly critical of Houllier and his assistant manager Phil Thompson in a tabloid newspaper following his pounds 1m move to the Riverside Stadium, after it became clear that he had no future at Anfield.

After a meeting with the Football Association's compliance officer Graham Bean, the decision was made not to take any action against the 31-year- old Middlesbrough midfielder.

Adrian Bevington, an FA spokesman, said: "There was contact from the FA to Paul following the newspaper article where we asked for Paul to give us his observations and reasoning behind the article. Paul responded very professionally and promptly and a meeting was arranged with Graham Bean.

"Graham was up in the north-east on Friday afternoon and they managed to find time for a meeting after training. After the discussion a decision was taken not to charge Paul."

It is understood that while it was decided there were no grounds for a disrepute charge, Ince was reminded of his responsibilities in dealing with the media.

The move not to charge the midfielder was welcomed by Boro's assistant manager Viv Anderson, who said: "It was a personal view Paul Ince gave and I'm glad they've seen sense. Paul Ince is a Middlesbrough player now and what he did at Liverpool is gone. We just want him to perform like he did in the second half for us on Saturday between now and the end of the season and, hopefully, we can get up that league."

News of the FA's decision came as a boost to Ince and his club as they prepared for tonight's visit of Leicester and the prospect of topping the Premiership table for at least 24 hours if they win. The player himself had a chance to persuade Kevin Keegan that he is the man to add steel to England's midfield for the culmination of the European Championship qualifying campaign as he guided his side to their 1-0 victory over Liverpool on Saturday. But Ince admits that an international recall is not at the forefront of his mind.

"England is not my main interest, giving 110 per cent for Middlesbrough is," he said. "If I get back into the England squad then fair enough, but I still have a way to go to get match fit for Boro. There was so much hype before the Liverpool game surrounding me and Gazza that we were well pumped up for it, but we proved as a team that we are able to compete."

Paul Gascoigne is likely to miss out tonight because of the calf injury which saw him limp off just 16 minutes into Saturday's game and end his dreams of a place in the England squad due to be announced on Thursday. "I'm gutted for Gazza. I know how much it means for him to play for England and I know what it means for him to play for Middlesbrough," said Ince.

Gascoigne could return for the trip to Aston Villa at the weekend but Middlesbrough's manager Bryan Robson will also be able to call on Robbie Mustoe to take over in midfield if he fails to recover. Three successive victories since the shock opening-day defeat by Bradford City have seen the Teessiders climb to third in the table. But Anderson is adamant they are taking nothing for granted for the visit of Martin O'Neill's side.

"Leicester City is going to be a very, very hard game. Any team that Martin O'Neill puts out is going to be extremely tough," he said. "Last season they had four or five key players missing when we played them, the likes of Emile Heskey, Muzzy Izzet and Neil Lennon, and they still managed to get a draw up here. We did well on Saturday but Saturday's gone now. We've got to earn the right to play just as we did second half against Liverpool."

West Ham's Euro quest, page 20