The performance, however, was a disjointed one. If England are to win in Katowice next month and put Poland out of the Group Two equation they will need to be tighter at the back and in midfield. Despite the presence of David Batty and Paul Ince in the heart of midfield the skilful Georgians created plenty of chances. In the final analysis the difference between a satisfactory 2-0 win and a potentially catastrophic 1-1 draw was the width of the cross-bar which Georgia struck with the game still in the balance.
England had even more goal attempts in an entertaining if often scrappy match, but their finishing was as poor as Manchester United's in Europe the previous week. Apart from letting in Sheringham's goal, headed through his hands after 43 minutes, and Shearer's injury-time clincher, the Georgian goalkeeper was required to make only one save.
That was from David Beckham and his positive display justified his inclusion despite his jaded club performances. Rob Lee also had another good game while David Seaman was his customary secure self. Sol Campbell was the official man of the match but, while his many crucial interventions were impressive, some of them had been forced upon him because of situations created by his own poor distribution. Not that Campbell was alone. The Georgians' touch, control and passing shamed several Englishmen. There is still some way to go before the more grandiose dreams of England supporters can be realised.
Hoddle's sixth England team was much as expected. Despite the paucity of English midfield playmakers he resisted the temptation to move Beckham inside and kept him on the right. The versatile Lee came into the centre, playing on the left of the midfield trio in place of Steve McManaman. The Liverpool player's poor club form, following his inability to complete the step up to international level, meant he was dropped to the substitutes' bench.
More significant than any midfield tinkering was the revival of the Sheringham/Shearer partnership. With Tony Adams and Seaman also restored to the side there was a reassuring look to the XI.
Sheringham and Shearer were looking for each other almost immediately and, with Graeme Le Saux and Beckham prominent on the flanks, it was clear they would have plenty of opportunity to test Georgia's aerial prowess.
The first good move came, however, from Georgia after nine minutes. Georgi Kinkladze, relishing the big stage after a season in the repertory of the Nationwide League, wriggled away from Le Saux and Shearer before delivering a delicious cross-field ball to Temur Ketsbaia. The Greek-based player, who is believed to be heading for Newcastle United, cut in from the left and slid a neat pass to Shota Arveladze. But fortunately, Campbell, learning from the lessons of the Italian defeat, had seen the danger and made an excellent blocking tackle.
England, chastened, responded. Beckham made ground on the right but seemed to be penned in by two defenders only to extricate himself with a clever reverse ball to Ince. His cross picked out Sheringham but the Tottenham striker headed disappointingly wide.
Kinkladze set up the impressive Gocha Dzhamarauli only for his touch for once to let him down at the byline. Ince then fired wide and over with a couple of chances created by the Shearer/Sheringham partnership.
The Georgians had plenty of tricks. Some of them, such as the twists and turns and feints and flicks were a delight to watch. Others, such as the writhing on the ground whenever a white shirt came into contact were less attractive. To be fair they sometimes had reason to writhe. Mamuka Machavariani was carried off after falling badly under an innocent challenge but Le Saux was booked for a bad foul on Dzhamarauli.
On the other side of the coin Georgi Nemsadze was booked for time-wasting after a mild foul by Shearer and Kinkladze was cautioned for kicking the ball away.
All this induced England to slip from their usual sporting behaviour and Lee was booked after a theatrical fall in the penalty area. He responded by hitting the bar with a 39th minute cross-shot. It sparked a spell of pressure with Beckham and Ince going close before, two minutes before the break, England scored. Le Saux picked out Shearer's run with a ball down the left, the captain took the ball on his chest and hooked a cross into the centre where Sheringham evaded two markers to meet the ball with power and purpose. It was his seventh goal for England.
With Georgia forced to come out, an enterprising game became even more open. Almost too open as a Le Saux back pass allowed Gocha Gogrichidze a clear run on goal. Seaman stood up well to save. Lee and Campbell were also forced to make vital tackles and Seaman to dive again at Gogrichidze's feet as Georgia pressed.
Slowly England lifted the siege, Beckham brought a good save from Irakli Zoidze with a volley after linking well with Sheringham, then Ince had a close- range shot blocked. England's failure to seal the game almost cost them when, with 13 minutes left, Kakhaber Tskhadadze rifled a shot from the edge of the area on to the bar and over.
The close escape made England even more nervous but their fears were quelled when Shearer scored his 14th England goal in injury time.
It followed a free-kick foolishly given away by Zoidze who picked up a back-pass. With the Georgian team on the goal-line, Sheringham back- heeled to Shearer who flashed the ball into the roof of the net. It was the 13th goal scored by the Sheringham/Shearer partnership in just over 15 hours of football. Hoddle will watch their fitness with trepidation.
ENGLAND (3-5-2): Seaman (Arsenal); G Neville (Manchester United), Adams (Arsenal), Campbell (Tottenham); Beckham (Manchester United), Batty (Newcastle), Ince (Internazionale), Lee (Newcastle), Le Saux (Blackburn); Shearer (Newcastle), Sheringham (Tottenham). Substitutes: Redknapp (Liverpool) for Ince, 78; Southgate (Aston Villa) for Adams, 88.
GEORGIA (1-4-4-1): Zoidze (Dynamo Tbilisi); Tskhadadze (Alania Vladikavkaz); Chikhradze (Shakhtyor Donetsk), Shekiladze (Dynamo Batumi), Shelia (Alania Vladikavkaz), Machavariani (Dynamo Tbilisi); Dzhamarauli (Trabzonspor), Kinkladze (Manchester City), Nemsadze (Trabzonspor), Ketsbaia (AEK Athens); S Arveladze (Trabzonspor). Substitutes: Gogrichidze (Zhemchuzhina Sochi) for Machavariani, 31; Gakhokidze (Alania Vladikavkaz) for Kinkladze, 62; A Arveladze (Trabzonspor) for Gogrichidze, 77.
Referee: R Harrell (France).
World Cup reports, page 31
Ken Jones, page 30
P W D L F A Pts
Italy 6 5 1 0 11 1 16
England 5 4 0 1 9 2 12
Poland 4 1 1 2 3 6 4
Georgia 3 0 0 3 0 5 0
Moldova 4 0 0 4 2 11 0
Remaining fixtures: 31 May: Poland v England. 7 June: Georgia v Moldova. 14 June: Poland v Georgia. 10 Sept: England v Moldova; Georgia v Italy. 24 Sept: Moldova v Georgia. 7 Oct: Moldova v Poland. 11 Oct: Italy v England; Georgia v Poland.