Football: Ricard provides the spark

Middlesbrough 1 Derby County 1
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The Independent Online
Middlesbrough 1 Derby County 1

IT WAS not very far from the madding crowd at Middlesbrough on Saturday that Jim Smith, that hardy perennial of football management, once upon a time famously despaired of the foreign bodies creeping into the English game.

"As far as I'm concerned he can rot on his pig farm in Sao Paulo," the blood-spitting Bald Eagle said of Mirandinha, having failed to swoop down from the directors' box in time to stop Newcastle's Brazilian sprinting off Ayresome Park as quickly as he had collapsed to the ground under the slightest hint of a challenge.

At the Riverside Stadium on Saturday, just past the burger van selling Emerson Hot Dogs (one bite and they're gone, presumably, and bursting with Sao Paulo pork, quite possibly), Smith watched his team take the lead with a goal scored by a Costa Rican and then lose it thanks to a header by a Colombian.

In the decade since Mirandinha reduced him to a state of pig-sickness, Smith has clearly revised his opinion on the foreign legionnaires of football. His Derby are not so much a County as a world, what with a German, a Croat, a Costa Rican, a Norwegian, a Dane and two Italians on the pitch on Saturday, not to mention an Estonian and a Jamaican on the bench and an Argentinian waiting in the wings.

It was, however, the South American whom Middlesbrough's manager, Bryan Robson, introduced at half-time who held the key to a Premiership contest overflowing with internationals but with precious few drops of international class.

With Alun Armstrong and Marco Branca on the injured list, Middlesbrough need nothing more than a striking asset as they look to take some sort of foothold in the big league - other, perhaps, than Paul Gascoigne doing more than huff and puff his way through 90 minutes, which he did as a plodding passenger on Saturday.

Hamilton Ricard looked as aerobically challenged as Gascoigne in the handful of First Division games he played last season, after arriving at the Riverside for pounds 2m from Deportivo Cali in March. Hamilton, it seemed, had great difficulty doing anything academical on the pitch.

In 45 minutes on Saturday, however, the 24-year-old Colombian showed sufficient sharpness to reveal the international pedigree he has gained alongside Faustino Asprilla in his national team. Not that his influence alone was responsible for stirring Boro from their first-half stupor.

Giving Paul Merson licence to roam on the right was significant, too. Indeed, it was from Merson's right-wing cross that Ricard rose to head the 48th minute equaliser. "Hamilton is getting used to the English game, to the surroundings and to his team-mates now," said Robson.

As for Smith, he could be grateful for the uncharacteristic fumble by Mark Schwarzer that allowed Paulo Wanchope to open Derby' seasonal goalscoring account - and that Gascoigne hit the bar (not after the game, but during it) with his one contribution of note, a curling 71st minute free-kick.

"I'm not exactly over the moon with the performance," Smith said. But the Bald Eagle was not exactly sick as a parrot either. His legionnaires, after all, remain unbeaten in the green and pleasant land of the Premiership.

Goals: Wanchope (31) 0-1; Ricard (48) 1-1.

Middlesbrough (4-3-2-1): Schwarzer; Stockdale, Festa, Cooper, Gordon; Gascoigne, Mustoe, Townsend (Kinder, 87); Stamp (Ricard, h-t), Merson; Beck. Substitutes not used: Vickers, Maddison, Beresford (gk).

Derby County (3-5-2): Hoult; Laursen, Stimac, Elliott; Eranio, Carsley, Bohinen, Powell, Schnoor (Delap, 60); Sturridge (Baiano, 83), Wanchope. Substitutes not used: Burton, Bridge-Wilkinson, Poom (gk).

Referee: M Riley (Leeds).

Bookings: Derby: Bohinen, Stimac, Eranio, Wanchope.

Man of the match: Powell.

Attendance: 34,121.