Gascoigne the inspiration

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The Independent Football

For the second time in four days, Boro threw away a match they should have won. They did not have a dodgy throw-in to blame this time, either - only the man they threw out on a free transfer in the summer.

For the second time in four days, Boro threw away a match they should have won. They did not have a dodgy throw-in to blame this time, either - only the man they threw out on a free transfer in the summer.

Sure enough, Paul Gascoigne crowned his return to the Riverside Stadium by sticking up two fingers, if only metaphorically, at those who had written him off.

His former team-mates had done enough to clinch the game in the first half, with the Croatian striker Alen Boksic intent on showing on his home debut that if there is a vacancy for Middlesbrough since Gazza's departure, he is the man for the job.

The former Lazio striker, given a lone role up front with Joseph-Désiré Job pushing forward from deep in support, was all over the place, turning up on both flanks while displaying the control of a first- rate target-man.

His penetrating run down the left would have given Boro an early lead if any of his colleagues could have reacted quickly enough to get on the end of his raking cross.

And when he reprised the manoeuvre in the seventh minute, his low drive across the face of goal again seemed to be going nowhere until the Everton defender Steve Watson slid in and turned the ball past his own goalkeeper.

In his defence, Watson had been press-ganged into a central defender's role because the manager, Walter Smith, had nine of his first-team squad on the treatment table.

Boro would have sewn it up by half-time had their finishing been able to match their approach work. But if they needed telling that when at first you don't succeed, keep trying, they had no further to look than Everton's 19-year-old striker Francis Jeffers.

He, too, had been ploughing a lone furrow up front and had contrived to squander the few chances that came Everton's way before the break. A set-piece, like Gascoigne's free-kick late in the first half which had Boro's goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer, scrambling to palm it over, or a goal on the break, definitely seemed like Everton's best hopes of restoring parity.

It was the latter which arrived seven minutes after the restart. Boro were again attacking, but Noel Whelan's cross was cleared to Everton's Thomas Gravesen midway in his own half, and his 30-yard pass sent Jeffers clear of the Boro back four to clip a superb angled drive from just inside the area into the far corner of the net.

It was the incentive Everton needed, and they gradually wore Boro down. Gascoigne, perhaps inspired by the example of his Danish midfield partner, twice threaded the ball through to set up gilt-edged chances for Jeffers.

It was third time lucky. With just four minutes left, Gascoigne launched Jeffers on a run into the box, and although Schwarzer beat out his first shot, the massed red shirts on the line could not deny him twice as he rammed home the rebound.

It came as some relief to Smith, who has seen his own side throw away convincing leads once or twice lately. "We lost a terrible goal in the first period, but we were the better team in the second half," he said later.

Robson commented: "After we went 1-0 up we went on the back foot, just as we did in the last 20 minutes against Derby. In the second half Everton deserved to win."

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