Football: Ziege's zeal sets example to Gazza

Middlesbrough 3 Pallister 17 Gascoigne pen 76, Deane 78 Southampton 2 Kachloul 15, Pahars 55 Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 32,165
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THERE WAS a hero's welcome at the Riverside yesterday for the player who has resurrected his international career since becoming a Boro boy. England, and Kevin Keegan, can only hope that one day Paul Gascoigne might follow in the footsteps of Christian Ziege - hope (and strictly in the eternally-springing sense), if not expect.

Out of the German team picture for 18 months before swapping Milan for Middlesbrough, Ziege became the first Boro player since Wilf Mannion in 1946 to score an international hat-trick when he struck three goals past Northern Ireland in Dortmund on Wednesday. At 27, though, the wing-back from west Berlin happens to be at the peak of his physical powers. Gascoigne, at 32, is a huffing, puffing shadow of the genius glimpsed on Match of the Nineties on Thursday night, the slim-line Gazza who put the Scots to the sword and destroyed the Dutch in Euro 96.

The trouble for Middlesbrough, and for England, is that the aerobically- challenged Geordie finds it hard enough to make it through a game these days, never mind make it back to international level. In 18 months with Middlesbrough, only once has Gascoigne played three full games in succession - and it is almost a year since he managed that personal feat of physical endurance. He did last the full 90 minutes yesterday, and scored from the penalty spot as Middlesbrough, twice in arrears, overcame Southampton. For the most part, however, the great hope of English football was nothing more than a plodding midfield passenger.

It is one month short of two years now since Gascoigne last produced form of international class. Paul Ince played alongside him that night, when England secured World Cup qualification with a goalless draw in Rome, and the pair were in tandem yesterday. Not that their presence was noticeable for much of the afternoon. Though the driving play of Ince proved to be decisive late in the game, Gascoigne could not cope with the mobility of Hassan Kachloul, who was granted the freedom of the Riverside as he pounced to score the opening goal on the quarter-hour.

The Moroccan swept the ball into an unguarded net from fully 35 yards when Mark Schwarzer was caught in no-man's land vainly attempting to intercept a speculative up-field punt by Stuart Ripley. At least the setback stirred Middlesbrough from their stupor. Three minutes later they were level. Gary Pallister let rip from 30 yards, his right foot shot leaving Paul Jones clutching air. It was the veteran defender's first goal since his return to Teesside, his first for Middlesbrough for a decade. It might not have been the only Boro goal of the half, but Steve Lodge turned a deaf ear as well as a blind eye when Ince, tripped from behind by Kachloul, looked to have a more than half decent shout for a penalty.

Middlesbrough were behind again 10 minutes into the second half, undone by the brilliance of Marian Pahars. Latching on to a Mark Hughes through- ball, the little Latvian ignored overlapping runners to either side of him before coolly beating Schwarzer with a curling low shot from the fringe of the home penalty box. Gascoigne had an easier task from 12 yards, 13 minutes later. The penalty kick he side-footed past Jones came courtesy of Luis Boa Morte, who was sent off for handling a goal-bound Ince header.

Middlesbrough's muted maverick did not, though, have the final say. That distinction fell to Brian Deane with a diving 77th minute header - courtesy of an exquisite Ziege cross.