Gerrard defiance in vain

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The Independent Football

Although the scoreline suggests Everton were handily positioned to produce another last gasp equaliser, their respectability at the Riverside Stadium yesterday was largely due to their goalkeeper Paul Gerrard, whose one-handed brilliance ensured they did not leak four goals for a third match in succession.

Although the scoreline suggests Everton were handily positioned to produce another last gasp equaliser, their respectability at the Riverside Stadium yesterday was largely due to their goalkeeper Paul Gerrard, whose one-handed brilliance ensured they did not leak four goals for a third match in succession.

In the last 15 minutes, with his side reduced to 10 men, Gerrard's bravery and agility prevented Middlesbrough from matching the recent scoring tally of Leeds and Arsenal against the Toffeemen.

"Our second-half performance was our best of the season for sustained pressure and quality of ball, but we never got the third goal because Gerrard was outstanding," the Middlesbrough manager, Bryan Robson, said. "The save from Christian Ziege's free-kick, which took a deflection off the wall and was about to drop into the top corner, was top class."

That save came in the 77th minute when Everton were already one behind and one short. The free-kick had been awarded when David Weir pulled back Hamilton Ricard as he trudged on to a Juninho throughball. Despite the Colombian's sloth, the Scot was the last defender and had to go.

Gerrard, though, can also look back proudly at how he dealt with Brian Deane's brave but foolhardy 85th-minute header. The striker threw himself in among David Unsworth's studs but Gerrard somehow tipped the header over the bar.

The goalkeeper will also be pleased that he left the game with his head still on his shoulders. In the 64th minute, Gerrard rushed bravely to repel Ricard. Weir then bought the keeper time by clearing Deane's follow-up shot from the line, but when Gerrard made it back he was greeted by a vicious throat-high screamer from Ziege which he instinctively turned away to save both his face and the goal.

"He made a few good saves but a lot of our problems came from corners that were excellently taken by Ziege," said Walter Smith, Everton's manager. And as superbly as Gerrard stopped shots, he flapped wildly and worryingly at corners.

Yet it was a corner that embarrassed Middlesbrough in the third minute. It was Everton's second of the game and was controversially awarded as Don Hutchison appeared to handle Unsworth's cross long before the Boro keeper, Mark Schwarzer, bounced the ball out of play. When Mark Pembridge flapped a flat corner kick into the near post, it slid off Curtis Fleming's head and squirmed through Gary Pallister's legs to the back post where Kevin Campbell hooked in gleefully.

Middlesbrough mounted their first attack of the game in the 12th minute. Deane and Ricard played pinball against Richard Gough and Paul Ince raced 20 yards on to the inviting rebound only to trip as he shot from the edge of the area.

His embarrassment was only momentary, for in the same spot in the next move Pembridge up-ended Ince. Juninho eyed up the free-kick with wicked intent but it was Ziege who calmly curled the ball around the wall and into the net. The Brazilian's ingenuity soon showed itself when, on the half-hour, his sublime pass put Ziege in behind Weir. However, from a tight angle the German was unable to add a fitting finish.

Then, on the stroke of half-time, Pallister brushed a Ziege corner narrowly over his own bar. Just after the break, another corner made a more forceful impact with the back of Ince's head and drew the first of a series of one-handed saves from the goalkeeper. But Gerrard could only keep Middlesbrough at bay single-handedly for so long and, in the 61st minute, Phil Stamp flung a deep right-wing cross on to the forehead of Deane who, deadly from five yards, won the match.

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