Football: McCall copes with passing years better than Gascoigne

Bradford City 1 Middlesbrough 1
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The Independent Online
MIDDLE AGE in the middle of the field can affect you in different ways.

On the one hand, there are Peter Beagrie, Stuart McCall and Neil Redfearn - combined age 103 - upon whose unbowed shoulders their club's prospects of Premiership survival rest. On the other, there is Paul Gascoigne.

At a mere 32, Gazza has a few years' advantage over the Bradford trio, but it is he who is experiencing the mid-life crisis. Given a starting role in the absence of Paul Ince, he did his best to be involved but found himself hopelessly off the pace for much of the game.

His botched back-header that set up Bradford's equaliser for Lee Mills was just a symptom of that. Although Bryan Robson showed more sympathy than anger over that blunder, he must know that his generous assessment of Gascoigne's contribution before that erred wildly on the charitable side.

There was the occasional touch that hinted at the back pages, but his efforts suffered cruelly by comparison with Juninho, whose imagination and movement produced the goal and could have ensured a Boro victory.

That, however, would have been harsh on City, and particularly on their triumvirate of midfield elder statesmen. Once an early injury to Dean Windass forced a beneficial change of formation, McCall and Redfearn worked relentlessly and effectively in the centre of the park, with Beagrie hardly less involved from the right flank. More than any of them, it is McCall who represents the dogged, bloody-minded determination that could still keep them in the top flight.

At 35, he might have appeared to be the sort of player that gets you into the Premiership but cannot really be expected to still prosper there. That has turned out to be as far off the mark as Gascoigne's header. Apart from retaining his mobility in a way that other 30-somethings can only envy, McCall epitomises the "us against the world" attitude that can be City's salvation. "The spirit's good," he said, recognising that it is not enough in itself. "But we need some good performances as well. If we play like we did today, we won't get despondent."

There are some hopeful signs at Valley Parade. While still not exactly prolific, they at least look at times as though they might score the odd goal - and Mills' equaliser was his fifth in eight matches after a barren start to his Premiership career. He looks happier playing alongside Robbie Blake, but the real strength of the side is the know-how behind them. If the relegation struggle turns into a dogfight, that hard edge of experience could be invaluable.

"It looked at one time as though there might be six teams involved, but now it could be down to four," is McCall's analysis. "We knew Newcastle would pull clear and Wimbledon had a good win today."

If his assessment is correct, then there is just one place in the lifeboat. It could be those who know how to jostle and elbow their way around who claim it. "But we need to start turning some of these good performances into wins," said McCall. "To be honest, we probably nicked three points up at their place at the start of the season, but we thought today that we should have had all three."

Goals: Ricard (13) 0-1; Mills 60 (1-1).

Bradford City (4-4-2): Clarke; Lawrence, Wetherall, O'Brien, Myers; Redfearn, McCall, Windass (Halle, 24), Beagrie (Sharpe, 85); Mills, Blake. Substitutes not used: Davison (gk), Whalley, Saunders.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Fleming (Maddison, 49), Vickers, Festa, Ziege; Stamp, Gascoigne (Summerbell, 74), Mustoe, Juninho; Ricard, Deane. Substitutes not used: Beresford (gk), Armstrong, Gavin.

Referee: R Harris (Oxford).

Bookings: Middlesbrough: Deane, Stamp.

Man of the match: McCall.

Attendance: 17,708.