Football: Wright's day is soured by Hartson

Arsenal 2 Middlesbrough 0

Arsenal's first victory for nearly a month, courtesy of goals by Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright yesterday, takes them to within two points of the Premiership leaders Liverpool. But not for the first time this season there was a sour post-script to their performance.

John Hartson, who had replaced Bergkamp midway through the second half, was sent off in the final minute for dissent. Bryan Robson, the Middlesbrough player-manager making a rare appearance, had tussled with Hartson in the Boro penalty area. The referee, Mike Reed, saw nothing untoward but Hartson was not happy and made his feelings known. He was booked and less than a minute later shown the red card for what can only have been an extremely foolish comment to the referee. It was Arsenal's fourth sending- off in their last eight games.

Prior to that Arsenal had made heavy weather of what had looked like becoming a rout. Robson, 10 days short of his 40th birthday, became the oldest outfield player to have appeared in the Premiership, but his task in the middle of Boro's defence looked more onerous as the first half wore on.

There were chances for both sides before Bergkamp's splendid opening goal. First Fabrizio Ravanelli shot just over with a free kick from fully 30 yards, then a great run by Paul Merson in the inside-left position ended with him slipping the ball through for Wright. His pull-back from the byline was promising but Robson slid in with the first of several outstanding interceptions.

After a quarter of an hour the Boro defence was breached. Martin Keown's long ball was aimed for Wright but he was beaten in the air by Steve Vickers. The loose ball dropped invitingly for Bergkamp, and the Dutchman drove a sumptuous right-footed volley from the edge of the penalty area past Gary Walsh's flailing right hand.

Juninho hit back for Boro and Keown did well to clear the danger when the little Brazilian released Ravanelli. A foul by Tony Adams on Ravanelli then gave the Italian another chance from distance, but this time the free-kick was easily gathered by John Lukic.

Middlesbrough then sat back and sacrificed the initiative, content to attack on the break. It was a dangerous policy. After being caught marginally offside, Wright was denied twice.

But just when it looked as though the visitors would reach the sanctuary of half- time relatively unscathed, that man Wright scored his 200th League goal in typical fashion. Merson's cross from the left put Mikkel Beck under pressure from Ray Parlour. Beck could only head the ball back into the danger area and Wright once again was in the right place at the right time to poke the ball past Walsh.

Middlesbrough were more of a threat in the second half but it was still a surprise when Ravanelli won a penalty with 13 minutes to go. Juninho threaded a lovely pass through to Ravanelli, he stepped inside Patrick Vieira's challenge but the Frenchman left his foot there and Ravanelli tumbled over. Up stepped the Italian, captain for the day, but his shot ricocheted off the crossbar high into the North stand.

"We should have killed the game before that," Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, said. "If he had scored, the last 15 minutes would have been difficult for us. We had problems to link our game, to get four or five passes in a row."

With Wright now starting a three-game suspension, Hartson automatically suspended for three and a lengthening injury list, linking their game might prove the least of Arsenal's problems in the coming weeks.

Arsenal (3-5-2): Lukic; Keown, Adams, Bould; Parlour, Garde (Morrow, 75), Vieira, Merson (Shaw,79), Winterburn; Bergkamp (Hartson, 64), Wright. Substitutes not used: Linighan, Bartram (gk).

Middlesbrough (3-5-2): Walsh; Cox, Robson, Vickers; Liddle, Mustoe, Emerson, Blackmore, Beck; Juninho (Hignett, 79), Ravanelli. Substitutes not used: Fjortoft, Roberts, Morris, Freestone (gk).

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

IAN WRIGHT'S LEAGUE DOUBLE CENTURY

Crystal Palace

Season Matches Goals

1985-86 32 9

1986-87 38 8

1987-88 41 20

1988-89 42 24

1989-90 26 8

1990-91 38 15

1991-92 8 5

Total 225 89

Arsenal

1991-92 30 24

1992-93 31 15

1993-94 39 23

1994-95 31 18

1995-96 31 15

1996-97 21 16

Total 183 111

Career 408 200

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