GRAHAM TAYLOR'S England managership has seen more dodgy bets than Gamblers' Anonymous and while there will be much sympathy for the way of it, the failure of his latest high-risk selection last night has probably signalled the end of his ill-starred reign.
Defeat by the Dutch leaves England in need of a football miracle to get to the World Cup finals. More precisely, the requirement is for Poland, who cannot qualify, to beat the Netherlands next month, while Taylor's dispirited team score a hatful against San Marino.
Statistically they still have a chance. In reality, their prospects dissolved on a night when Lady Luck withheld the smiles the beleaguered manager had called for from all present.
Ronald Koeman, having failed with a poor free-kick, scored when he was fortunate enough to be given a second attempt, and Dennis Bergkamp strangled England's fightback at birth by rifling in the second after controlling the ball with his hand.
To add insult to injury, the referee refused David Platt an obvious penalty when Ronald Koeman tugged him back by the shirt, and Tony Dorigo and Paul Merson went desperately close in rattling the framework of Ed de Goey's goal.
If it was not for bad luck, England would have had no luck at all, but the good sides, they say, make their own, and from day one in the qualifying series, when they surrendered a point at home to the Norwegians, they have not been good enough.
The decisive incidents may have been contentious, but the Dutch are the better side, and deserve to go forward with Norway, who secured their place in the finals by beating Poland 2-0.
England's spirit was never in doubt, but they missed the pace and spontaneity of Ian Wright and lumbered themselves with a second unnecessary handicap in recalling Carlton Palmer, who lasted just one half before Taylor acknowledged his mistake by replacing him with Andy Sinton.
Even at maximum strength, England would have been hard pressed to gain the draw they needed here. Deprived of Paul Gascoigne, Les Ferdinand and Stuart Pearce, and further undermined by at least two poor selections, it was never going to be their night.
The players, denied the rub of the green, were desperately disappointed. They had dug deep into their reserves of mental resolve to produce a creditable performance in difficult circumstances. On another night, it might well have produced the point they came for.
Tuesday's 'vibes', to borrow Taylor's buzzword, had not been good, with the announcement of a much- changed team provoking a confrontational press conference, and an us-and-them situation which did nothing for morale.
The selectorial surprises continued into the game, with Paul Merson, not David Platt, partnering Alan Shearer in attack, and Palmer stationed not in front of the back four, to pick up Bergkamp, but on the right side of midfield.
The invigorating atmosphere, as much as the importance of the match, lifted the players on what was an 'I was there' occasion. Some 5,000 from England were, but a few hundred more who might have been were not, the Dutch police deporting alleged hooligans by the plane-load.
There had been trouble in the town, but inside the ground all was bonhomie, with oompah-band drinking songs booming down from the stands. 'You'll never walk alone' would have done credit to the Kop choir.
Unfortunately, the tunes of glory were all Dutch.
The Netherlands' names were ominously familiar, but the ever-changing face of Taylor's England was reflected in the fact that Paul Parker - his 12th right-back in three years - was the sole survivor from the goalless draw between the two sides during Italia '90. Only four players - Platt, Ince, Adams and Palmer - remained from the 2-2 draw at Wembley six months ago. So much for continuity.
Ominously, the Dutch soon made inroads on the right, where the pace of Marc Overmars unsettled Dorigo, who was booked after 31 minutes for knocking over his tormentor.
An Overmars cross, laid back invitingly by Bryan Roy, had Bergkamp shooting over from 15 yards, and the men in orange were into their stride. Jan Wouters, letting fly from distance, tested the muscles around David Seaman's solar plexus, and England were grateful for the encouragement supplied when Merson set up Platt for a strong shot, well saved.
Those English smiles Taylor had wanted were much in evidence when Merson turned John de Wolf near the touchline before cutting in from the left at pace. Good, penetrative stuff, spoiled only by the finish, which had power but no direction.
The chance sparked a purple patch which might easily have brought England a half-time lead. Dorigo, with a 25-yard free-kick, had de Goey leaping to his right to touch the ball on to, and round the post, and a shot from Tony Adams, of all people, had Erwin Koeman hacking the ball away.
Even at the height of England's prosperity, however, Bergkamp was allowed too much freedom, and there was no one near him when he volleyed Roy's cross wastefully over.
Luck seemed to be on England's side just before the interval when Frank Rijkaard, supplied by Ronald de Boer, stabbed the ball past Seaman at close range before having his celebrations curtailed by an offside decision which television replays proved to be in error.
The Dutch resumed as they had left off, with Rijkaard's clever pass sending Bergkamp accelerating through the middle for a low shot which had Seaman scrambling to the base of his left-hand post.
Luck, and the game, turned after 57 minutes, when Ronald Koeman grabbed Platt a yard inside the penalty area,and England's players looked on in disbelief when the referee awarded a free-kick on the 18- yard line.
Dorigo's strike was charged down, and bad became infinitely worse after an hour, when Wouters was floored by Ince in a similar position at the other end. The initial free- kick, taken by Ronald Koeman, was safely repelled, but the referee ordered it to be retaken, indicating that Ince had moved too early.
Ince pointed out, with justification, that the Dutch wall had got away with charging down Dorigo just as quickly, but his protest brought no more than a booking.
To his fury, the Dutch scored when the kick was retaken, Koeman surprising England's defenders by opting for precision instead of power, and chipping the ball past Seaman's flailing right hand.
Midway through the second half it was 2-0, and England were almost certainly on their way out of the World Cup.
Again they could count themselves unlucky, Bergkamp using a hand to bring the ball under control before shooting low, past Seaman's dive, but that was that. It looks like Majorca rather than Orlando in June.
NETHERLANDS: De Goey (Feyenoord); De Wolf (Feyenoord), F De Boer (Ajax), R Koeman (Barcelona), E Koeman (PSV Eindhoven), Wouters (Bayern Munich), Overmars (Ajax), Rijkaard (Ajax), R De Boer (Ajax), Bergkamp (Internazionale), Roy (Foggia). Substitutes: Winter (Lazio) for Overmars, 74; Van Gobbel (Feyenoord) for R De Boer, 90.
ENGLAND (4-3-1-2): Seaman (Arsenal); Parker (Man Utd), Dorigo (Leeds Utd), Adams (Arsenal), Pallister (Man Utd); Palmer (Sheff Wed), Ince (Man Utd); Sharpe (Man Utd); Platt (Sampdoria); Shearer (Blackburn Rovers), Merson (Arsenal). Substitutes: Sinton (Sheff Wed) for Palmer, h/t; Wright (Arsenal) for Merson, 68.
Referee: K Assenmacher (Germany).
World Cup round-up, page 43