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Wednesday, April 8, 1998 Published at 01:05 GMT 02:05 UK

Sport: Football

Boro lose ground, Charlton show more bite than Wolves
image: [ Paul Merson prepares to add to Boro's nightmare ]
Paul Merson prepares to add to Boro's nightmare

Ian Brown reports from Bramall Lane for BBC News 24 (0'51")
Middlesbrough's automatic promotion hopes suffered a nightmarish setback as they went down 1-0 to Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

Boro's new £3.45m signing Paul Gascoigne limped off injured after a disappointing display and Paul Merson missed a penalty.

The former Rangers' star could now miss some of his club's crucial forthcoming matches.

[ image: Merson:the face says it all]
Merson:the face says it all
The loss means Bryan Robson's Coca-Cola Cup final losers slip four points behind North East rivals Sunderland and further away from first placed Nottingham Forest.

Their third place is taken by Charlton who beat Wolves 1-0 while Sheffield United edge closer to a play-offs place.

Gascoigne went off in the 76th minute after he suffered a foot injury in an innocuous-looking block tackle.

However, the visitors never looked capable of winning, and he was unable to impose his authority on the game.

Defence at fault

[ image: Saunders: his goal gives his club play-offs hope]
Saunders: his goal gives his club play-offs hope
The only goal came on 52 minutes when Steve Vickers gave away a needless free kick near the corner flag for a push on Gareth Taylor, who was posing little danger.

Wayne Quinn swung over the ball and Lee Sandford climbed above Ricard to power the header goalwards from six yards.

The ball skidded nastily off the wet surface, but even so it was directed close to Australian keeper Mark Schwarzer.

However, he was unable to hold onto the effort and Saunders was on hand to poke the ball into the roof of the net from close range.

Disappointing encounter

The goal breathed life into what had been a desperately disappointing encounter, with neither side able to master the wet conditions.

The first half had been littered with errors, though Saunders and Merson both wasted good chances to give their team an interval lead.

In the second half, Ricard shot wide from 10 yards, before the Colombian won his side a penalty on the hour.

Alan Kelly had parried Neil Maddison's fierce 25-yard drive, but the rebound fell to Ricard.

He jinked past David Holdsworth and the defender, who had earlier been booked for a foul on Alun Armstrong, tripped Ricard.

However, Merson blazed the spotkick high and wide.

Uphill struggle

[ image: Bryan Robson: still optimistic]
Bryan Robson: still optimistic
Robson admitted his side now faced an uphill struggle to gain automatic promotion to the Premiership.

He said Gascoigne's injury meant he would struggle to make the games against Bury and Reading.

He said: "I thought we played quite well and I had no problem with the way the lads went about it.

"We've put pressure on ourselves because we've got to set our stall out to win all six of our games to give us a chance of going straight up."

Praise for players

United manager Steve Thompson praised his side for the way they lifted themselves following Sunday's FA Cup semi-final defeat to Newcastle.

"The players' attitude at this football club is exemplary. We've played three games in less than a week and the lads have run their socks off every time.

"There are seven games to go and there's no reason why we can't win all seven. If we do that and the others slip up, then who knows?"

Charlton 'on fire'

"Charlton deserved their win" - Radio Five Live report (0'47")
Meanwhile, Charlton have ended a nine-in-a-row no-win record against Wolves in a fully deserved 1-0 home victory which leapfrogs the club over Middlesbrough into third place in the First Division.

It was Charlton's fourth successive win and completed a miserable three days for Wolves who lost to Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final on Sunday.

Charlton completely dominated the first half and were unlucky to only have an eighth minute goal by Clive Mendonca to show for their superiority.

"For 70 minutes we were on fire but only had one goal to show for it. After that Wolves threw caution to the wind and we got a bit nervy," said manager Alan Curbishley.

"None of us are talking about play-offs. I've said all along, perhaps it will go to the last week and I hope it does because we've still got a few points to make up."

Wolves manager Mark McGhee said: "I think the play-offs for us will be practically impossible with Sheffield United winning tonight.

"Our first half against Charlton was the worst we played this season and it wasn't a hangover from Sunday's Cup match against Arsenal."

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