Gascoigne takes on linesman and loses

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The Independent Online

CHELSEA'S travelling caught up with them as they played like a team that had left many of their members in different time zones. It was enough, though, in a scrappy affair to send their supporters' minds travelling back through time to August 1931, when they last won at Middlesbrough.

CHELSEA'S travelling caught up with them as they played like a team that had left many of their members in different time zones. It was enough, though, in a scrappy affair to send their supporters' minds travelling back through time to August 1931, when they last won at Middlesbrough.

But for Paul Gascoigne there is no turning the clock back. As ill-disciplined as ever, his 18-minute appearance as substitute ended seconds before the final whistle when his volley of abuse at a linesman was deemed by referee Paul Alcock to warrant a red card.

Gazza's sole ability these days seems to be to steal the headlines - and he shows breathtaking ingenuity at employing it. Yesterday's upstaging was quite a feat given that the only Middlesbrough midfielder anyone was talking about before kick-off was Juninho.

From Berlin to Boro by way of Brazil, Chelsea's coach pulled into the Riverside to be greeted by a cacophony from a 30-strong samba band. The Brazilian was back, starting his first Premiership game since May 1997. Many home supporters had splashed out on new No 23 tops to celebrate the occasion; many, though, had dusted down their old No 10 shirts, which stretched tight over bellies that had blossomed in the 16 months he had been away.

Although the game was only 64 seconds old when Juninho impudently nutmegged Chris Sutton, and the second half had only run three minutes when he did the same to Gianfranco Zola, he never found the time or poise to hurt Chelsea's ragged, chaotic defence with his passing. But this was only his second game in seven weeks.

In fact his old and similarly small friend Zola - the pair embraced warmly in the centre circle before kick-off - showed him the way. Seconds after the Brazilian had fluffed his cross from an inspirational pass from Christian Ziege, Sutton got the better of Gary Pallister and took a tumble. From the kick, Zola's surprise shot from a tight angle was tipped on to the bar by Mark Schwarzer and Bernard Lambourde won the race to bundle in the rebound.

The nature of the goal and the free-kick only reinforced Middlesbrough's feeling that they had been mugged. Boro manager Bryan Robson agreed: "I thought we had two clear appeals for penalties in the first half." Both came against Lambourde, who was outpaced and undone all day. In the fourth minute he handled unseen in his own area and in the 39th minute he roughly hauled Keith O'Neill to the ground.

The most curious decision of all, though, came in the 68th minute when, off the ball, Sutton fell in Middlesbrough's penalty area clutching his head. After consulting the linesman, referee Alcock booked Colin Cooper and awarded a corner.

But Alcock always tried to let the game flow and it was hardly his fault that it produced only one notable move. In the 10th minute, Schwarzer's long throw found Ziege flying down the left. His clever touch fell inside to O'Neill, whose quick cross reached Hamilton Ricard. Brian Deane was about to pull the trigger when Marcel Desailly dramatically intervened. Middlesbrough's first effort on target did not come until the 64th minute, when Dean's header finally ruffled Ed De Goey.

Gascoigne's arrival seven minutes later did nothing for the game, beyond increasing its already niggardly nature. But that provided succour for Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli. "I am pleased we showed such good fighting spirit because people think we are sweet Londoners not capable of handling the English game," he said with some pride.

Half-time: 0-0

Attendance: 34,183

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