Football: Batty given the safety-pin role for belt-and-braces England: Walker and Sheringham dropped in wake of Norway humiliation as US Cup opener against United States becomes of vital importance to Taylor's tenure

IT is a game Graham Taylor cannot afford to lose, and he made tonight's selection accordingly, picking an England team who are more likely to bore the United States into submission than set alight their tub-thumping rehearsal for next year's World Cup finals.

The US Cup was designed to preach football's gospel to a pagan public, but England have more pressing priorities, and the need to avoid another humiliating defeat overrides any obligation to put on a show for the 40,000 converts expected in Boston's Foxboro stadium.

Taylor knows his position is in some jeopardy after last week's ignominious surrender in Oslo, and that the pressure on him would intensify to the nth degree if England were to lose to the novices of the international game. That awareness produced a belt-and-braces line-up, with David Batty drafted in to stabilise the midfield and tired old John Barnes reappearing in yet another role. Striker or albatross? You play the bad penny and take your choice.

Unsurprisingly, there are changes everywhere to the team beaten 2-0 by Norway, with Tony Adams, Des Walker, David Platt, Paul Gascoigne and Teddy Sheringham replaced by Batty, Tony Dorigo, Paul Ince, Nigel Clough and Barnes. Of the casualties, Adams, Platt and Gascoigne were unavailable; Walker and Sheringham are dropped.

Taylor's latest permutation of the same old faces has Dorigo in for Lee Sharpe at left-back, Gary Pallister and Carlton Palmer paired up in central defence and Clough cast in the Gascoigne role, just behind the main strike force, which this time comprises Barnes and Les Ferdinand.

'In football,' Taylor mused, 'you're only as good as your last game, and at the moment we're poor. You can always lose any game, to anyone. It's how you lose that matters. That was the thing that shocked us all in Norway.

'We would have been looking for a win here anyhow, but if we'd won last week it wouldn't have been considered essential. Now it is. Whether we like it or not, people expect us to beat America, and there is definitely more intensity about this game because of our performance in the last one.'

That 'intensity' can only increase if the Netherlands beat Norway in Rotterdam today to overtake England in World Cup Group Two.

Taylor said he preferred not to refer back to Poland and Norway, but felt the Manchester United pair, Pallister and Sharpe, had no reason to reproach themselves for the shambles in Oslo, and deserved another chance in their customary positions - centre- half and left wing respectively.

Another pair of club-mates who would probably have played, Arsenal's Martin Keown and Ian Wright, were not considered for places in the starting line-up because of minor injuries, but will be on the bench.

In Gascoigne's absence, Taylor hopes Clough will grasp the opportunity to establish himself after a stop- start international career which has brought 10 caps, four as substitute.

The manager said: 'I have always expressed the view that Nigel is an extremely good footballer. He has gone from one cap to 10 under my management, and I have always had a great deal of time for him. He has made a brave decision to leave Nottingham Forest, having been brought up by one club, in one way, but it may be that the move to Liverpool is a turning point in his career.'

The likelihood is that Clough will be given all three games here - against the United States, Brazil and Germany - to settle into what has become known as Gazza's Hole, just

behind the strikers. With the orifice's usual occupant in mental turmoil, the implication is plain for Clough to make the place his own.

The Americans' results, Taylor said, had been 'in and out', but John Harkes, the Sheffield Wednesday midfielder, had been outstanding in Sunday's 2-0 defeat by Brazil, and there were two or three others of similar calibre.

In and out? By that reckoning England are world beaters. The United States have won one of their last 16 games, but that is not to say that they are complete mugs. In successive matches 12 months ago they won this tournament by beating the Republic of Ireland (3-1) and Portugal (1-0) before drawing with Italy (1-1).

The American presentation of what they call 'soccer' is different to say the least. When the hosts lost to Brazil, the game was interrupted by adverts almost every time the ball went out of play. The Dulux commercial was entirely appropriate. To the average American, 'soccer' is about as interesting as watching the stuff dry.

ENGLAND: Woods (Sheffield Wednesday); Dixon (Arsenal), Pallister (Manchester United), Palmer (Sheffield Wednesday), Dorigo (Leeds United), Batty (Leeds United), Ince (Manchester United), Sharpe (Manchester United), Clough (Liverpool), Barnes (Liverpool), Ferdinand (Queen's Park Rangers).

UNITED STATES: Meola (US Soccer Federation); Lapper (USSF), Doyle (USSF), Dooley (Kaiserslautern), Harkes (Sheffield Wednesday), Ramos (Real Betis), Wynalda (Saarbrucken), Agoos (USSF), Armstrong (USSF), Wegerle (Coventry City), Clavijo (USSF).

Referee: A Weiser (Austria).

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