Football: Taylor girding himself to discard Gascoigne

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The Independent Online
SUDDENLY nothing is certain any more. England's failure to gain the win they expected in Poland has jeopardised their World Cup prospects, forcing Graham Taylor into an intensive reappraisal which could see some famous heads roll. Paul Gascoigne, mask included, among them.

Having had 48 hours to mull over the 1-1 draw in Chorzow, England's manager admitted yesterday that they had been lucky to escape a damaging defeat. Continued good fortune could not be relied upon for the victory they need over Norway here tomorrow, and he is to delay selection until shortly before the kick-off to give the fullest consideration to changes, both in strategy and personnel.

The hobby horse at the centre of his mental gymnastics is Gascoigne with his deteriorating form and fitness. Taylor devised a formation based around what he calls a midfield 'umbrella' to allow the country's most gifted player to roam, but with Gascoigne no longer a match-winner, the system has lost its purpose.

Gascoigne has the consolation that he is not alone in his vulnerability. Taylor is also worried by Des Walker's decline and must be pondering the place of John Barnes, who no longer has the change of pace to go past his full-back, and is not busy enough to justify a midfield place.

None of the famous three could complain if omitted, but Taylor is conservative, and it would be no surprise to find Walker and Barnes retained, with Gazza the odd man out.

While most would have Lee Sharpe given his first start in place of Barnes, and either Gary Pallister or Martin Keown alongside Tony Adams, the likeliest change would see Nigel Clough installed behind the strikers.

Clough did well substituting for Gascoigne in Chorzow, England's goal coming after the change, and the signs are that it could be quite a week for him, a rare start for England to go with the pounds 2m transfer to Liverpool he expects to finalise on his return.

Confessing that the managerial mind was in turmoil, Taylor said: 'These are important days for England, and I've got a lot of things to think about and decisions to get right. Are certain players bruised, mentally as well as physically, and if so, can I restore them in a couple of days?'

Gascoigne, Taylor said, was again having trouble with his weight, and was 'not the same player' who played at home against Norway, in October. What was the difference between then and now? 'Use your eyes.'

The strategy of detailing midfield drones to buzz busily behind the king bee was also under review. 'I'm prepared to give Paul a platform to play on, on the basis that he can play, and keep a degree of fitness to last 90 minutes. At the moment, that's a problem for him, and for us. That's down to Paul, and it's not going to change between now and Wednesday.'

A deterrent to replacing him will be the effect he has on those around him. In peak form or not, his team-mates are reassured by his presence, and the opposition always wary of him.

Food for thought. Also on Taylor's cerebral smorgasbord will be whether Les Ferdinand or Ian Wright is the best man to inject some much-needed pace into the forward line; the right- back position, where David Bardsley played well against Poland as understudy for Lee Dixon, who is now fit again; and the best replacement for Paul Ince, who is suspended.

The odds favour Ferdinand, Dixon and David Batty, with the foot injury that prevents Wright from lasting the full 90 minutes again restricting Saturday's hero to the bench.

Decisions, decisions. 'It's important that I get them right - for everybody's sake,' Taylor said. Not least his own.