Middlesbrough 4, Bury 0

THERE were no excuses from Stan Ternent after he watched his Bury side suffer their heaviest defeat of the season on Saturday.

In fact, it appeared to come as no surprise to the Shakers boss who took a realistic approach in his assessment of the performance.

"We had our backsides well and truly kicked, but you expect that from time to time at this level," he sighed.

"We did not play as well as we could have done. We have to accept we were second best and take it on the chin."

Yet he remained defiant about the future and Bury's chances of survival, adding: "We have to close ranks and stick together. We will pull through."

Bury's holiday weekend got off to the worst possible start in Cleveland with this Easter Saturday mauling at the hands of Boro.

There was an ominous groan among the Shakers' travelling supporters when, half an hour from kick-off, Paul Gascoigne was passed fit to take his place in the starting line-up.

The England international was supposedly ruled out of the Easter fixtures with a foot injury, yet looked at his brilliant best as he tormented Ternent's side for the full 90 minutes of his home debut.

Boro's new £3m signing was overshadowed, however, at a blustery Riverside Stadium by hat-trick hero Marco Branca.

The Brazilian striker stole the show as Bryan Robson's men got their promotion bid back on track and in turn nudged Bury a couple of notches further down the First Division table. The writing was on the wall for the Shakers within the first few minutes as Boro made it clear they were going on all-out attack.

A first half goal from Hamilton Ricard was merely an hors d'oeuvre for what was to come - Branca's second half super show.

England World Cup hopeful Paul Merson was the man to thank for his first two.

The former Arsenal ace played a majestic 50-yard pass to the elusive number nine for his 62nd minute goal which he expertly drilled over the head of Dean Kiely into the roof of the net.

Eleven minutes later, Gascoigne and Merson again opened up the Bury defence, sending Branca into acres of space to slot home his second and Boro's third.

And he completed his tremendous treble eight minutes from time with perhaps the easiest goal he will ever score.

Substitute Craig Hignett almost took the honours but his shot bounced back off the left hand upright and there was Branca to tap home.

Bury could consider themselves fortunate to be only one goal down at half-time.

Boro threatened Kiely's goal on a host of occasions with Merson, Gascoigne and captain Andy Townsend proving the dangermen and making the most of the space they were offered.

Top notch saves from Kiely denied Branca in the ninth minute and Robbie Mustoe, after neat build-up play by Gascoigne and Craig Harrison, in the 14th. Within 60 seconds of the latter, Boro were wreaking havoc in the Bury half once more and had a penalty appeal turned down when Ricard lost his feet after Andy Woodward's challenge.

The right back cleared the danger once more for the Shakers when he swept up a dangerous ball into the six-yard box soon after, during a period in which Bury had to defend four corners in the space of three minutes.

There was no let-up for an under-the-cosh Bury as Boro continued to pour forward with their impressive brand of free-flowing football.

Townsend's cross was fired over the bar by Ricard on 25 minutes before the home side finally broke the deadlock just short of the half hour mark.

Gascoigne started the move when he played Townsend into space. The Republic of Ireland star fired a stinging shot at the Bury goal which proved too hot to handle for Kiely.

The ball bounced off the 'keeper's chest into the air and Ricard followed up to head home his first goal for Middlesbrough.

Bury might have had an equaliser within three minutes when Tony Ellis laid a ball on for Mark Patterson but the midfielder shot inches over the bar with a good long range effort.

Patterson and Nick Daws were Bury's best on the day, but it will be a match which they, along with the rest of their teammates, will want to forget in a hurry.

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