Football: Middlesbrough fail to capitalise

Middlesbrough 0 Chelsea 1
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The Independent Online
SWEET LONDONERS, to use Gianluca Vialli's quaint phrase, Chelsea ain't, but neither did they appear European challengers as they mis-fired their way through a Middlesbrough side which failed to capitalise on the return of its prodigal son.

It is now 816 minutes since a Chelsea forward scored from open play and that statistic was never troubled by Chris Sutton who was prevented from managing a goalbound effort by Gary Pallister. Gianfranco Zola's beautiful 54th minute free-kick was at least on target and Bernard Lambourde hassled in the rebound.

With Chelsea struggling for fluidity, the home side looked to Juninho, returning after 16 months. "Born in Brazil, re-born in Middlesbrough" proclaimed their banners which had been reclaimed from the backs of cupboards where, like a child's bucket and spade, they had been placed as a memento of days that have gone.

Although Juninho was neat and tidy with a couple of canny nutmegs up the sleeve on which he wears his heart, he never suggested that he still possessed that exuberant ability to defy death while running at defenders or to kill them with a precision pass. Whether that is because of the broken leg which rendered him surplus to requirements at Atletico Madrid or because this was only his second match in seven weeks, Bryan Robson will have to decide before his pounds 1.4m loan runs out on 31 July.

He will be hoping its the latter for, in his heart of hearts, Robson must know Paul Gascoigne's days are fading quicker than Chelsea's European hopes. He lasted only 18 minutes although this time it was not his physique that let him down but his equally infamous temperament. It is difficult for a substitute to adjust to the pace of a game and the football aspect certainly passed Gascoigne by.

However, he was quick to pick up the unpleasant undercurrent with nasty niggles at Didier Deschamps and an outrageous off-the-ball lunge aimed at Dennis Wise, which was so wild and ill-timed, its victim, normally easily roused to anger, side-stepped with amusement.

Gascoigne's verbal volley at a linesman earned him a red card seconds before the final whistle and it set the seal on a game which had long abused the patience of the watcher.

Goal: Lambourde (55, 0-1)

Middlesbrough (3-5-2): Schwarzer; Festa, Pallister, Cooper; Fleming, Ince (Mustoe 35), Juninho (Armstrong 85), O'Neill, Ziege; Deane (Gascoigne 71), Ricard. Substitutes not used: Vickers, Roberts (gk).

Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey; Lambourde, Leboeuf, Desailly, Le Saux; Petrescu, Deschamps (Morris 90), Wise, Ambrosetti (Babayaro 74); Sutton, Zola (Flo 71). Substitutes not used: Hogh, Cudicini (gk).

Referee: Paul Alcock (Halstead, Kent).

Bookings: Middlesbrough; O'Neill, Ziga, Cooper, Ricard. Chelsea: Petrescu, Desailly, Deschamps, Sutton. Sending-off: Middlesbrough: Gascoigne.

Man of the match: Wise.

Attendance: 34,183.