Better but still must improve

IAN RIDLEY

It was all quiet on the Oslo front, fortunately and unfortunately. The 11 Britons detained on Tuesday considered likely to inflict hooliganism were duly deported before the match, which passed peacefully with the Norwegian authorities so forewarned and forearmed that Dublin was never likely to be repeated, despite some sporadic chants of "No surrender to the IRA".

Indeed, the atmosphere inside the Ullevaal stadium, its capacity not troubled, was decidedly flat. The prospect of playing and beating England is clearly no longer a novelty.

It all mirrored England's attacking front, although a charitable view might be that their possession game subdued home fervour. But how curious it was that Les Ferdinand was not even given a place among an uninspiring quintet of substitutes.

Terry Venables, the England coach, said before the match that he wanted cover in all positions, with Teddy Sheringham deemed able to play as a leader of the line or alongside Alan Shearer. Surely, Sheringham did not hold the same terror for the Norwegians as the muscular, powerful Ferdinand, however. Surely we must begin to see an alternative to Shearer, if only as back-up should injury intervene.

It was hard to see where a goal might come from with this England selection, who have scored only 15 times between them in their 172 appearances. After Shearer, whose barren run for his country now extends to eight matches, Tony Adams was second to his five goals with four.

David Platt's place may seem under threat with Jamie Redknapp continuing to look assured, but his goals - 26 for England - look more valuable than ever. There are good games to miss; for Platt and Paul Gascoigne, whose incisive runs from midfield were sorely missed, this was one of them.

Venables had wanted to see how his defence performed in an away match when under pressure. On the few occasions that the Norwegians did stir themselves, the verdict was not especially favourable, although clearly an improvement on the disorganised Taylor team of two and a half years ago here.

The real problem, however, was further forward. In a shop devoted to England football merchandise in Oslo, they were showing a video of Gary Lineker's 48 goals for England. Perhaps Venables might show it to his next selection before the Switzerland match at Wembley next month.

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