Football: Merson directs England's domination: Fringe men's fillip for Venables as Northern Ireland fail to sustain early promise

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England B . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

Northern Ireland B. . . . . . . . . . . .2

TERRY VENABLES' look at the fringe players of his England squad provided him with a victory at Hillsborough last night but probably did not enhance his knowledge a great deal. The 'B' in this match stood for the blindingly obvious.

The England manager will name his party today for the full international against Greece next week armed only with the extra information that Arsenal's Paul Merson, already with 13 caps, was the game's outstanding player. That apart, against an inexperienced Northern Ireland side, only Newcastle's Robert Lee gave a convincing argument in favour of a closer examination.

Inevitably attention fell on Chris Sutton, who will probably be purchased this summer for a fee exceeding pounds 4m, but instead of the Norwich striker using the game to advertise his wares, it was Dean Holdsworth, Merson, Steve Bould and John Scales who got the goals.

Sutton was substituted in the second half, but by the time he departed the meaningful moments - Scales' strike apart - had already occurred. Five of the goals were scored before the interval and the match, played before a crowd of only 8,281, fizzled out in a wave of substitutions.

There was no hint of Venables' penchant for the unexpected in England's 4-4-2 formation; instead, that arrived in the shape of Ireland's goal after 14 minutes. They shed their assumed sacrificial status when Bould was drawn to the flank by Robbie Dennison's run down the right, and no one filled in for the Arsenal defender in the centre. When the low cross came, George O'Boyle was unattended in the six-yard box.

England had a dishevelled look but regained their poise and within 10 minutes had assumed an advantage of their own. First Lee turned expertly and crossed to the far post where Holdsworth headed his 25th goal of the season. Then Merson gave the home team the lead with a shot from 16 yards, after Ruel Fox had crossed and Holdsworth's shot had been blocked.

The balance swung between the sides again when James Quinn outstripped Bould, flicked the ball past Kevin Pressman and then turned the ball into an unguarded England net. But just as it seemed the teams would be on level terms at the interval, Bould scored with a diving header.

After that fusillade of goals, the second half was always likely to be an anti-climax, and so it proved until the 89th minute when Merson passed to Scales who beat Alan Fettis from eight yards.

ENGLAND B (4-4-2): Pressman (Sheffield Wednesday); Barton (Wimbledon), Scales (Wimbledon), Bould (Arsenal), Beresford (Newcastle); Fox (Newcastle), Lee (Newcastle), Bart-Williams (Sheffield Wednesday), Merson (Arsenal); Holdsworth (Wimbledon), Sutton (Norwich). Substitutes: Armstrong (Crystal Palace) for Sutton (65); Stubbs (Bolton) for Bart-Williams (65); Martyn (Crystal Palace) for Pressman (73); Edghill (Manchester City) for Barton (73); Summerbee (Swindon) for Fox (73).

NORTHERN IRELAND B (4-4-2): Fettis (Hull City); Lomas (Manchester City), McGibbon (Manchester United), Patterson (Crystal Palace), Horlock (Swindon); Dennison (Wolverhampton), Lennon (Crewe), O'Neill (Hibernian), Black (Nottingham Forest); O'Boyle (Dunfermline), Quinn (Blackpool). Substitutes: Hunter (Wrexham) for McGibbon (51); Robinson (Tottenham) for Quinn (55); Miller (Wimbledon) for O'Neill (63); McMahon (Tottenham) for Lennon (63).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).