Sublime Gazza rides the ridicule

Rangers 2 Gascoigne 28, Laudrup 37 Aberdeen 2 Irvine 40, Dod ds 89 Attendance: 50,076
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The Independent Online
After the bad and the ugly, Paul Gascoigne's dramatic week finally discovered the good. Unfortunately for Rangers, Billy Dodds delivers the goods. The Aberdeen striker produced a stunning last act when his 88th- minute equaliser, his 17th goal of the season, relieved Ibrox's villain- turned-hero of the spotlight to rescue a draw.

Penitent Gazza seemed set to atone for a tawdry last few days in which Ajax, and then his wife Sheryl, exposed the flaws of this football genius. His predictable headline-hogging was pushed to the limits by a midweek sending-off in Europe and allegations that he had beaten his wife and it seemed to have taken its toll on both the England player and his club.

For a brief moment, Gazza's 27th-minute goal, a wonderful 25-yard free- kick, exorcised all the demons, but even his manager, Walter Smith, conceded later that the intense media scrutiny had made him consider dropping Gascoigne. "I had doubts about him," said Smith, "and I only made up my mind this morning. Paul insisted he was keen to play and in the circumstances I thought he was okay; but a situation like this managers can do without."

Gascoigne was fined pounds 30,000 in wages for his Ajax red card, but it was his loss of public appeal that was put to the test. Even his chairman, David Murray, called the player "a victim of his own stupidity" in a radio interview before the game.

Whether Murray was referring to the on-field problems or simply Gazza's private life was unclear, but the reception from most of the 50,000 crowd made it clear that they still support him. The Aberdeen fans showed less sympathy, flourishing hundreds of red cards and goading Gascoigne mercilessly.

Gascoigne, though, stuffed that down their throats with his sublime goal. A typically searching run was halted illegally by Joe Miller just outside the box, but the curling free-kick over the wall had no barrier. Not wishing to be upstaged, Brian Laudrup cut a similar swathe through the Aberdeen defence nine minutes later, dancing past three tackles and goalkeeper Nicky Walker before joyfully slamming in Rangers' second goal.

However, Brian Irvine handed Aberdeen a lifeline in the 39th minute when he ruthlessly punished a rare error from Richard Gough to volley into the net from 12 yards. Meetings between these teams have been more spiteful than skilful in recent years but this was a contest to please the eye.

It was the Aberdeen followers who left with a smile when Dodds pounced on Irvine's knock-down to score inside the six-yard box in the game's dying throes. Dodds took time to praise Gascoigne, not only for his goal but for his mental fortitude. "It's been a hard week for him, he's even been on Newsnight, and I've got to admire the magnificent way he played. I feel a sympathy for him because there is no escape and the goal he scored was top-drawer. However, I think the fact that we came back from two goals down says a lot about our character too."

Ian Ridley, page 30