Football: Keegan plots harmonious strike

European Championship: England's coach believes Shearer and Cole can succeed against Poland at Wembley
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The Independent Online
THIS MORNING, during England's training session, Kevin Keegan will take Andy Cole and Alan Shearer aside and head off for a quiet goal area among Bisham Abbey's trio of manicured football pitches. Slowly he will then walk them through the movements which he hopes will unhinge Poland's defence in tomorrow's European Championship qualifier at Wembley.

Cole and Shearer, though both bought by Keegan for Newcastle, have never started a match together. Their only experience in harness is the last 25 minutes of England's defeat against France, by which time the service provided to the strikers was so poor as to render the exercise irrelevant. Nor, surprisingly, given the injuries to other forwards, have they worked specifically on the partnership this week. "That may surprise you," said Keegan, "but today is the first time I've been able to get everybody together in a session."

This morning, however, Keegan plans a getting-to-know-you session. He believes the pair could dovetail immediately but he knows it is not an exact science. "We have some talking to do tomorrow," he said. "I'll be going out and planting things in their minds. It won't be heavy, with lots of running and such, I'll walk them through it, tell them what might happen, what to expect from the Poles. They know they'll probably be man- marked which does not happen every day at league level.

"I'll make both aware they can't do exactly what they want, or have been doing at club level, but they both know that, they've been around. Andy will have been watching Alan for a long time, he will know what he is about and Alan will be the same. He'll know what Andy does and doesn't do well and vice-versa.

"I'm convinced they can click because they have quality and they are different. They are both goalscorers but they get their goals in totally different ways, the only thing in common is when they shoot - either the keeper makes a good save, or the net bulges. Their way of finding the net, of playing, holding the ball up, their strengths and some of their weaknesses, are different. They will provide options for wide players and through the midfield.

"It's not as if I've thrown two players together who are alike. What they do share is they both have character and a wanting to win. It is now a case of lighting the blue touchpaper and seeing what happens. That happens a lot at international level. Out of a problem comes an opportunity and two or three players will get opportunities to cement a place in an England squad for a long time to come."

Cole, in attack, and one or both of Ray Parlour and Tim Sherwood in midfield, may not be the only ones getting an unexpected opportunity. The goalkeepers, David Seaman and Nigel Martyn, have recovered but Tony Adams is suffering from what the coach described as "a little bit of flu". Having only trained at half-pace on Tuesday he missed both Wednesday and yesterday's session.

If Adams fails to recover Gareth Southgate, whose form has been affected by Aston Villa's collapsing season, or Rio Ferdinand, is likely to feature in a team Keegan expects to name today.

That, in itself, is a statement of intent. While Glenn Hoddle attempted to keep his team quiet to gain what he saw was every possible advantage, Keegan appears to be saying to Poland: `Here's my team, try and beat it - we don't fear you.' He added: "If we don't get a result I will get criticised for being too open, just as other managers have been criticised for being the opposite, but that's my way."

That attitude rubs off on players. Gary Neville, on his fourth England coach (caretakers included) at the age of 24, said: "He's very enthusiastic, very positive. He's always praising you which is great, players like that, it's important. The manager does it at Manchester United and it gives you a good feeling. He [Keegan] is also more friendly, he sits on the bus with us, things like that. Glenn Hoddle was positive and supportive and prepared us brilliantly but that is one of [Keegan's] great strengths."

To re-inforce the mood Keegan organised a motivational talk for the team last night. He said little about the speaker except he was Scottish, humourous, and it was `nothing weird'. Billy Connolly? Or Alex Ferguson?

Merry old Cole; Scots game off, page 26