Football: Four-goal Platt lifts labouring England: San Marino's resistance keeps Taylor's men waiting while Roxburgh is rewarded for attacking intentions

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The Independent Online
England . . .6 San Marino. .0

SIX it was, but the performance was hardly of the best. David Platt played the captain's role to perfection, only a last-minute penalty save denying him five goals and a share in England's individual scoring record, but this was not a result to send shock waves through World Cup Group Two.

For San Marino to concede half a dozen away from home is par for the course. For the Wembley crowd it was barely satisfactory.

Norway had rattled in 10 against the Sammarinese in September; England needed three in the last 12 minutes, when the part-timers were desperately tired, to bring a measure of respectability to the scoreline, and to still the boos which were echoing round the ground after an hour.

Les Ferdinand, on a promising debut, and Carlton Palmer scored their first goals in international football, and Platt showed that he is much more than an orthodox midfielder, but many of the lessons Graham Taylor will have learned on a B-minus sort of night were negative ones.

John Barnes seemed to be treading water on his return, providing a sporadic service, at best for his strikers. Anonymous against as weak a team as England are ever likely to encounter, he may not get another chance to fulfil that unquestioned potential.

Paul Gascoigne, too, was disappointing, his influence waning dramatically after that swaggering performance against the Turks. Like Barnes, he is not in the peak of condition and, for all Taylor's talk of cuddles, England cannot afford to mollycoddle and cover for two players who are less than 100 per cent fit.

On the plus side of the equation, Tony Dorigo was an adventurous deputy for Stuart Pearce at left-back, Ferdinand looked like a useful striker to have in reserve, and Palmer and David Batty confirmed what we already knew. That they are dogged and effective workhorses who will run all night.

There, the credit column ends, falling disappointingly short.

Whether Batty should even have been playing is debatable. Trevor Steven would have given the midfield a more positive balance when Paul Ince rushed home to be at his sick son's bedside.

England, in fairness, had already lost their preferred strikers and their understudies, as well as their captain and first-choice left- back. In the circumstances, it was just as well that it was San Marino, not the Netherlands or Poland, who stood between them and the two points they needed to consolidate second place in Group Two.

As expected, San Marino played with 10, and sometimes 11 men behind the ball, betraying a lack of ambition, which made a nonsense of their direct entry into this most prestigious of all international competitions.

Whenever England spread the ball to the wings their semi-professional opponents were in trouble, but the required width was a long time in coming, and it took a set- piece to open the scoring, after 13 minutes.

Pierluigi Benedettini, with an overhead save, and Bruno Muccioli, with a goal-line clearance, combined to repel Platt's sight-setter, but San Marino were unable to clear their lines, and the consequent corner provided England with the early goal they craved. The old routine was good enough, Barnes meeting Gascoigne's kick from the left at the near post and flicking the ball to the far side, where Platt plunged in to supply the scoring header, from four yards.

The captain clearly relished the chance to play in adventurous mode again after a season as the anchor in the Juventus midfield, and he might have had a hat-trick in 27 minutes. He succeeded in making it 2-0 after 24 minutes, when he climbed high at close range to head in Batty's centre via the crossbar, and should have had a third, when he stumbled with the goal at his mercy.

Two-nil at half-time satisfied no one, the hillbillies apart, but Ferdinand, who headed wide from eight yards, Palmer from distance and Ferdinand again, with a far- post header, acrobatically saved, might have made it five before the game was an hour old. Instead, the third was delayed until midway through the second half - long enough to exhaust the crowd's patience.

Relief came, predictably, from the captain, Platt bundling the ball past Benedettini from five yards after Ferdinand had headed on Dorigo's free-kick from the left.

Gascoigne, from another Dorigo cross, drove the ball against the underside of the crossbar, and Batty saw a point-blank header blocked on the line by Mirco Gennari. The complaints were getting louder by the minute, but three goals in the last 12 finally gave England a decent margin.

Palmer finally made it four after 78 minutes, with a spectacular diving header from Ferdinand's cross, and Platt added the fifth, when he diverted in a shot from Lee Dixon.

The sixth, after 86 minutes, rightfully belonged to Tony Adams, whose header had crossed the line before Ferdinand followed in to make sure. The striker claimed it, as strikers are wont to do, and few would begrudge the debutant on a night from which he emerged with more credit than most.

It should have been seven, when Pierangelo Manzarolo knocked down Dorigo, but Benedettini plunged to his left to repel Platt's last-minute penalty. Seven would have been hard on the tiddlers. It would also have flattered England.

ENGLAND: Woods (Sheffield Wednesday); Dixon (Arsenal), Walker (Sampdoria), Adams (Arsenal), Dorigo (Leeds United), Gascoigne (Lazio), Batty (Leeds United), Platt (Juventus), Palmer (Sheffield Wednesday), Ferdinand (Queen's Park Rangers), Barnes (Liverpool).

SAN MARINO: Benedettini (Juvenes); B Muccioli (Novafeltria), Gennari (Juvenes), Zanotti (Juvenes), Canti (Juvenes), Guerra (Calcio San Marino), Manzarolo (Calcio San Marino), M Mazza (Cerveteri), Bacciocchi (Calcio San Marino), Bonini (Bologna), Francini (Santarcangiolese). Substitutes: P Mazza (Maremmona) for Bacciocchi, 64; Matteoni (Calcio San Marino) for Francini, 80.

Referee: R Philippi (Luxembourg).

Chris McMenemy, the 31-year- old son of the England assistant manager, Lawrie McMenemy, has lost his job as the manager of Chesterfield. He became the youngest manager in the Football League when he took charge over from Paul Hart two years ago. The Third Division club expect to name a replacement before the weekend.

(Photograph omitted)