Football: England shown right direction by Gascoigne: Joe Lovejoy reports on the chance missed and the encouragement gained from an unfortunate draw with Norway at Wembley

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The Independent Online
PAUL GASCOIGNE is back with a capital B, bringing poise and passion with him, but amid all the congratulatory back-slapping there is a very real danger of the point being missed. And in more ways than one.

The morning after a stirring night before, that was exactly what England were doing yesterday. Missing a point.

Wednesday's 1-1 draw with Norway was a substantial improvement on some of their recent palsied performances, but since when was a draw at Wembley cause for rejoicing? Have we really gone back that far?

England played well, better than for a long time, but not quite well enough. A point is a start - half a step in the right direction - but no one gets to the World Cup by drawing their home games.

Norway were lucky, and admitted as much, but they have seven points to England's one, and already the five countries trailing in the Scandanavian slipstream must feel they are playing for one place.

Time and again at yesterday's debriefing it was suggested to Graham Taylor that he had at last hit on his best team, and that changes were unnecessary for Turkey's visit on 18 November.

Someone even put it to him that this was the best result of his managership. Ahead of the convincing victory which ended France's two- year unbeaten run? How soon they forget.

Mercifully, Taylor was having none of it. England's performance on Wednesday was encouraging in that they were able to dominate strong and improving opponents, but 85 per cent of the play brought only 50 per cent of the goals, and that was not good enough.

Inefficient finishing - no England striker has scored in the last eight games - is by no means their only shortcoming. Gascoigne possesses a sniper's accuracy, the rest of them pass like blunderbusses, with much of their output missing its target.

The full-back positions give the greatest cause for concern. Lee Dixon has been found wanting in the past, and his inadequacy comes as no surprise, but Stuart Pearce's deterioration leaves him dependent on the manager's reluctance to drop his captain. Tony Dorigo would be a better bet, offering more as an attacking force, and providing the width and crossing expertise lacking this week.

The indications are that Taylor will persevere with Pearce in the hope that he can recapture the swashbuckling form which made him an inspirational figure, and an obvious choice for the captaincy. Dixon, on the other hand, is unlikely to survive his latest ordeal by error. Either Rob Jones or Paul Parker is in line to replace him - fitness permitting.

Taylor is keen to have these two back, along with Martin Keown, David Hirst and the long-term casualty, John Barnes, who is due to resume training next month.

Keown, lauded by the manager as the best marker in the country, would presumably have played against Norway, ahead of Tony Adams, had he been fit. Ready or not, he will have to wait his turn now, Adams having accepted the invitation to make the position his own by assembling easily the best of his 20 games for England.

If there is to be a change, other than right-back, it would probably see Hirst oust Wright as Alan Shearer's attacking partner. The Arsenal striker fluffed a straightforward chance with the footballing equivalent of golf's air shot, and his notoriously short fuse was well alight in the second half, when he was withdrawn at a time when explosion seemed imminent.

The goalscorer they call Satchmo is a great one for blowing his own trumpet, and was insisting yesterday that he was still the best man for the job, but for reasons which may have more to do with temperament than technique, he is making a poor fist of proving it.

Taylor was rueing Wednesday's missed chances yesterday - 'we've just got to put them away' - and wants another look at Hirst. 'The trouble is, every time I pick him he gets injured.'

The manager's disappointment with the result was alleviated by the powerfully committed performance which lay behind it. He had wanted England to play in 'attacking mode', and felt they had 'got into the right groove'.

After the European Championship, it had been important to regain the approval, and support, of the public, and they had done that by playing well, and with spirit.

There was 'a little bit of fine tuning' still to do, but he was 'reasonably close' to the team he wanted, and would keep Wednesday's squad together 'as much as possible'.

Inevitably, much of yesterday's discussion centred on Gascoigne's marvellous comeback, which had Taylor likening him to that other second time around phenomenon, Ian Botham.

The passing, the Gazza shimmy, the sidestep - it was all there bar the change of pace, and that should come with increased fitness. A booking, for use of the elbow, was an unnecessary blot on his man-of- the-match performance, but the old virtuosity had Taylor eating out of his hand, and prepared to make uncharacteristic allowances.

Gazza had to be accepted for what he was - the beauty came with an untamed beast. 'What you've got on the one hand,' Taylor said, 'is a generous, lovable, happy person. The downside is that he is what he is, he says what he feels, and his language at times leaves you thinking: 'Oh my God'.

'That's Gascoigne. The downside helps to make these people what they are - the Gascoignes and the Bothams. We may not like some of their behaviour, but do we really want everybody to be the same?

'I shudder now and then, and I have to pick up the bits and pieces, but somebody has got to do that for these people if we want their talent.

'We have to protect Paul and look after him a bit. It's all right looking back to Sir Stanley Matthews, the guest of honour on Wednesday night, but you can't look back and compare, you can only contrast. This is Gascoigne's day - today and tomorrow.'

Should it be Gascoigne's day on 18 November, old Stan promises to lead the applause.

Wales' wry smile, page 31

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