Football: No fairytale ending to Gascoigne comeback

Middlesbrough 1 Notttingham Forest 1
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The Independent Online
PAUL GASCOIGNE lifted the cloud of depression which has enveloped his life these last few weeks, and let a little sunshine in. No matter that this was not the return of which fairly tales and Gazza legends are made.

Particularly from the perspective of those who love a sob story, he won himself some respect simply through the very act of stepping back into the Premiership only a week after slipping out of a drying-out clinic.

So, no this was not vintage Gascoigne, but then it was not vintage Middlesbrough either, despite a bright opening thrust which suggested they had the capability of seeing off Dave Bassett's strugglers with more than something to spare.

The reality was that in the end they were lucky not to suffer their first home league defeat of the season on the back of an embarrassing Worthington Cup exit at the hands of Everton.

Forest, who had earlier looked an identikit of a team convinced it is going to be relegated, changed their face and caught Middlesbrough up through an 88th-minute goal from their teenage forward Marlon Harewood who lost his marker, Gianluca Festa, and fired a low drive beneath the goalkeeper Marlon Beresford.

If that was not insult enough to Bryan Robson's team, especially after all the Gazza hype, then the egg could have really been plastered over the collective face. Harewood could easily have won it for Forest in stoppage time when he was played into prime scoring territory by the substitute, Dougie Freedman. However, if Beresford might have done better in his attempts to prevent the equaliser, he redeemed himself by excellent positioning to make his save from Harewood's attempted lob look easy.

Coincidentally, this transformation materialised in Gascoigne's absence, having pushed himself to the limits of fragile fitness levels and been withdrawn after 78 minutes in favour of Phil Stamp.

He was always going to get a standing ovation no matter how much or little he contributed to this game. Some people just like standing by Gascoigne. Take Glenn Hoddle. Two years to this very day he picked Gascoigne for England just as wife-beating revelations were breaking.

Here, he damaged no one in particular with his abilities which have been in cold storage since he entered a clinic at Roehampton following his most recent Premiership appearance against Sheffield Wednesday on 3 October. Though he opened up brightly, he was more often than not a peripheral figure. And when he did make an impact, a heavy one on Forest's Scott Gemmill, it brought him a booking, his fifth of the season, which guarantees him a one-match ban. Gazza is back, at least for the time being.

It did not take Middlesbrough long to claim their lead, established after 21 minutes following Andy Townsend's superb long diagonal pass. Brian Deane lost what marking there was to go on and strike his first goal in the Premiership since returning from Portugal and Benfica for pounds 3m.

That should have been the start of something very worthwhile. But there was no Gascoigne magic. Just an illusion that Middlesbrough had the match in their grasp.

"It will take me a few games to get where I want to be," said Gascoigne. "I have a bit more work to do at the clinic. I have to go there twice a week for the next month.

"Hopefully, I won't be drinking, in fact definitely, but I am not going to be boring Paul Gascoigne. I am just going to enjoy my football and not drink. I have to just keep things under control, and it looks as though there will be plenty of opportunities for me to drive the car."

Goals: Deane (22) 1-0; Harewood (88) 1-1.

Middlesbrough (3-5-2): Beresford; Vickers, Festa, Cooper; Fleming (Stockdale, 73), Mustoe, Gascoigne (Stamp, 78), Townsend, Gordon; Ricard, Deane. Substitutes not used: Beck, Summerbell, Schwarzer (gk).

Nottingham Forest (3-5-2): Beasant; Hjelde, Chettle, Armstrong; Stone, Gemmill, Quashie (Lyttle, 73), Bart-Williams, Bonalair (Gray, 75); Shipperley (Freedman, 80), Harewood. Substitutes not used: Rogers, Crossley (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).

Bookings: Middlesbrough: Townsend, Gascoigne. Forest: Stone, Hjelde.

Attendance: 34,223.

Man of the match: Townsend.

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