Football: Taylor banishes any tiresome complaints: England expect nothing but energy and enthusiasm from battle-weary troops in summer push. Joe Lovejoy reports

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND'S battle-weary troops came straggling in from north London and south Yorkshire last night, postponing much needed R and R to renew their World Cup campaign with a summer push which takes them from Poland to Norway and back in the next 10 days.

Only half the full complement mustered at their Bisham Abbey headquarters on Saturday, when Graham Taylor warned them that he would tolerate no talk of tiredness. Anyone feeling 'knackered' would be sent straight home. 'We'll go without you.'

There were no takers, of course, but then by that stage the dead-beat Cup finalists from Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday had still to arrive.

When they did, Ian Wright treading gingerly on his broken toe, David Seaman and Tony Adams making light of their hernias, they were told that they faced two more cup finals in the space of five days.

Taylor is looking for maximum points, rather than safety-first draws, from the qualifiers in Katowice on Saturday and Oslo (2 June). Two wins, he said, would instal England firmly in the driving seat, at the top of Group 2. Two defeats would leave them stalled in the pits, all gaskets blown, but such a fate was too awful to contemplate.

Infinitely preferable is the scenario that has England beating the leaders, Norway, who then lose away to the Netherlands a week later. In that event, England and the Dutch would become the favourites for the two qualifying places.

First things first. Taylor, who watched the Poles win 3-0 in San Marino last week, says he has 'every confidence' about the first leg of the trip, in Katowice.

At one time, he was talking of Poland as the group's dark horses, but they made hard work of breaking down the Sammarinese, had managed to beat the Turks only 1-0 at home and were flattered by their 2-2 draw in the Netherlands.

This modest form, viewed alongside England's good win in Turkey and encouraging performance against the Dutch, had lessened the threat from the east in the managerial mind.

In bullish mood, Taylor said: 'Poland have got one or two gifted individuals - they've always had that - but they won't play the same attacking formation against us as they did in San Marino. This is a big test for them, and I know they see it that way.

'Never underestimate the respect our opponents have for us. It is a strength of ours, and one we should never downplay. It's quite right that Poland should feel it's a big game for them. If we were to win, it wouldn't see them off, but it would deflate them a great deal. They are much stronger in Poland than they are on their travels, and need to win their home games.'

England, on the other hand, had proved they were capable of gaining good results on foreign soil. Of the 16 away games played under Taylor's managership, they have lost only two - to Sweden at the European Championship and Spain in September.

It was a good record - up to a point. Unfortunately, a point was too often the outcome. There have been too many draws - 11 in 30 matches - with the surrender of a two-goal lead against the Dutch last month by no means untypical.

'Of the 11 games drawn, we've been in front in seven,' Taylor said. 'Too many winning positions have ended up being draws.' He had searched long and hard for a reason, without success. 'It just happens.'

Draws at home to Norway and the Netherlands had left England chasing the group, needing to win these next two to regain lost ground. Too much football or not, it was no time for talk of fatigue.

'We do play too many games,' Taylor said, 'but I think it produces staleness rather than tiredness. You can talk yourself into feeling tired, and I won't have that. If I find players in the squad saying they're tired, I'll send them home and find others who aren't.

'My attitude is: 'If you're tired or stale, go away and have a rest. We'll go to Poland and Norway without you.' You can't be tired when you're playing for your country. It's impossible.'

Carlton Palmer exemplified the approach required. Endlessly enthusiastic and energetic, Wednesday's workhorse was one of very few players to enhance his reputation during the Cup final marathon, and had emerged from modest beginnings to become an important cog in the England midfield.

Palmer had been derided by the Dutch as a basketball player at the European Championship, but the same opponents singled him out for handsome praise after his dynamic performance against them last month.

'Carlton is highly effective without looking pretty,' Taylor said. 'He looks better now than he did in Sweden because confidence came from recognising what his strengths are. Those runs from central midfield into positions inside the full-back don't half cause problems.'

The US Cup, in which England play the United States, Brazil and Germany in June, will be used to try Palmer in his alternative role, as a central defender - possibly within a sweeper system.

With so many players nursing knocks, Aston Villa's Earl Barrett has been promoted from stand-by.

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