FOOTBALL: RAISE A GLASS TO GAZZA THE GREAT; Everton 3 Charlton 0.
Even at his age and with all the justifiable doubts about the sense of the signing there is still no doubt that he can please a crowd.
As the smoke from the pre-match display blew away you could have sworn Everton impresario Bill Kenwright had something in his eye because of the reception.
Kenwright felt Everton needed some of his West End stage management after some solid signings and the old ham Gazza also enjoyed the stage.
The Goodison fans badly want a hero and they were willing to accept Gazza, looking trim and - more importantly - up for it.
The players have also taken to the likeable old rascal, exchanging slaps and jokes as he tried to get them going in his hyper style.
Gazza responds to love and adoration like any showbiz star and when one end rose to cheer him wildly as he took a corner he promptly provided a beauty.
The delivery was classic and the even more veteran Richard Gough was inches out with a header.
His temperament, so suspect in his final days at Middlesbrough, was tested by a crack from Mark Kinsella. He jumped up and played a fine ball but showed the old demons still lurk by whacking Andy Hunt at the first opportunity.
The gamble on the occasional cameo performance was certainly working as Gazza joined in attacks and even got back to tackle Claus Jensen as he raced into the box.
And if the signing was a ploy to cover some of the other Everton cracks, then it worked in that area too.
Because apart from his promptings there was little else happening as Charlton looked the equal, if not slightly better, on the night.
Graham Stuart sent in a raking 25-yarder against his old club that Paul Gerrard had to smother immaculately as predators waited.
Everton needed a goal to kick-start their season and Francis Jeffers blew a great opening to provide it as he raced away on a Stephen Hughes pass. But the young striker's shot was too straight and it came back off Dean Kiely.
Midfielder Hughes fired in a far better effort from 25 yards that Kiely had to tip over to provide Gazza with another set-piece.
Once more the ball was weighted splendidly and Gough was close to making the old Rangers double act work.
Gazza's next trick was a low corner that Thomas Gravesen met with a sidefoot shot that was going in until Chris Powell hacked off the line.
However Charlton were dealt a savage blow by a running battle between Carl Tiler and Mark Hughes that boiled over before half-time. Tiler rattled into the back of Hughes to pick up his first booking and then they clashed again with the Welshman catching the centre-half, who rashly reacted and departed after his second yellow.
Boss Alan Curbishley hurriedly sent on Steve Brown for Kevin Lisbie as he patched a hole at the back, while Everton took off hamstring victim Alessandro Pistone for David Unsworth.
The rise in temperature did nothing for Gazza. Kinsella caught him around the ankles and he kicked out in revenge.
Ref Neale Barry was close enough to see but turned a blind eye as the Charlton supporters roared in anger and injustice.
Gazza was back to his best after cooling down at the break and he turned the clock back with a major hand in the breakthrough goal.
He looked one way and passed the other past a static defence and into the run of young Jeffers.
The striker swung first-time and accurately and his shot fizzed past Kiely for a dream strike in build-up and execution.
Jeffers took off on a solo celebration while Gazza was mobbed by his new mates for his contribution. And the clenched fist he showed to the bench and mentor Walter Smith was as significant as the moment of vintage skill he had found in the memory bank. In the cynical world of football it was a recognition of faith between two old pals and a reminder of the talent that has been wasted for the past few years.
Those who thought Gazza was drinking in the Very Last Chance Saloon were raising glass to his health last night.
Duncan Ferguson replaced Mark Hughes after 66 minutes and scored twice in the last six minutes.
EVERTON: Gerrard, S. Watson, Pistone, Gough, Weir, Nyarko, S. Hughes, Jeffers, Gravesen, Gascoigne, M. Hughes. Subs: Unsworth, Simonsen, Gemmill, Moore, Ferguson.
CHARLTON: Kiely, Kishishev, Powell, Stuart, Rufus, Tiler, Kinsella, Hunt, Robinson, Jensen, Lisbie. Subs: Newton, Brown, Ilic, Parker, Konchesky.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Gascoigne
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Aug 24, 2000|
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