Football: Taylor preparing to go out with a bang: Ripley called up to join familiar faces as manager resists recruiting young generation for England's mission improbable in Bologna

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HE tried to make the squad sound interesting, but it was mostly the same old faces, and there was more interest in what Graham Taylor would be doing in nine days' time than what England might accomplish against San Marino in eight.

For once it was not about the players. Taylor admitted as much in acknowledging that whoever played in Bologna next week could not influence England's fate if, as seems inevitable, the Netherlands avoid defeat in Poland the same night.

If the Dutch gain so much as a draw against their demoralised opponents, Taylor and his under-achievers will be out of the World Cup - regardless of how many goals they rattle in against the Group Two makeweights. Poor Poland are at such a low ebb that their best players are talking of boycotting the game, so the straw England are clutching at is thin to the point of transparence.

The selection aspect of yesterday's squad announcement could be quickly disposed of. Stuart Ripley, Blackburn Rovers' uncapped winger, was the one newcomer - summoned specifically to service his club-mate, Alan Shearer.

Ripley, 26 this month and with eight appearances for the Under-21s, is in for the convalescent Teddy Sheringham. Otherwise there are two fairly mundane changes to the Rotterdam 22, with Arsenal's Lee Dixon back for Rob Jones, who has had a cartilage operation, and Tony Coton, of Manchester City, replacing Chris Woods as reserve goalkeeper.

A potential 'downer' of historic proportions was not a time for new faces, Taylor reasoned. 'We could finish the game knowing we are out of the competition, and I don't think that's an ideal situation to be bringing youngsters into.'

England's task was 'very simple', he said. 'We have to find seven goals or more. If we score seven or more it still may not be enough, but if we were disappointed after the Holland game, it will be nothing compared to the feeling if we come off and haven't performed and hear it was Poland 1 Holland 0. For that reason, we have to try to score as many goals as we can.'

Arithmetical flights of fancy out of the way, it was nitty gritty time. Was this Taylor's last squad? A nervous laugh. 'A lot of people might hope so. I hope it isn't. I hope the miracle occurs. What happens if it doesn't is something I will have to discuss with the Football Association.'

He had been 'interested' to find 'every Tom, Dick and Harry' debating his position since England's crippling 2-0 defeat by the Netherlands last month.

'That was a result that said we were almost certainly out of the World Cup, so it led to many other things. There's very little point in me saying anything because my voice isn't going to be taken into account, one way or the other, and if I do, I have a strong feeling that what I do say is likely to be very much abused. So I just shut up.'

Temporarily. The 10-1 the bookmakers are offering against England qualifying was unlikely to tempt him. 'Our thrashing of Poland - and that's what it was - hasn't helped our cause because they have fallen away since.'

A little dig seemed appropriate. 'Their manager resigned in the middle of the series - which some of you wanted me to do - and there's been a complete change of personnel in the Poland team and a complete loss of form. That hasn't been a good thing for us.

'I would have preferred it if they'd stayed as they were until the end of the competition. Now I'm led to believe that the experienced players aren't even going to turn up to play Holland.'

Jacek Ziober confirmed those fears. 'I'm sick of it - I've had enough,' the winger from Osasuna said at the weekend. 'I won't be turning up to play, and I won't be the only one.' Taylor shrugged. 'That's completely out of our control. All we can do is get on with our job, which is to go out with a bang.' When the smoke clears next week, his job may have been blown away in the explosion.

ENGLAND SQUAD (v San Marino, World Cup Group Two, Bologna, 17 November): Seaman (Arsenal), Flowers (Blackburn Rovers), Coton (Manchester City); Dixon, Adams, Wright, Merson (all Arsenal), Parker, Pallister, Ince, Sharpe (all Manchester United), Walker, Palmer, Sinton (all Sheffield Wednesday), Pearce (Nottingham Forest), Dorigo (Leeds United), Steven (Rangers), Platt (Sampdoria), Shearer, Ripley (both Blackburn), Ferdinand (Queen's Park Rangers), Clough (Liverpool). Stand-by: Bardsley (Queen's Park Rangers), Winterburn (Arsenal), Barrett (Aston Villa), Batty (Blackburn).

ENGLAND UNDER-21 SQUAD (v San Marino, European U-21 Championship Group Two, San Marino, 17 November): D Watson (Barnsley), Oakes (Aston Villa); Ardley (Wimbledon), Edghill (Manchester City), S Watson, Clark, Cole (all Newcastle United), Cox, Small, Ehiogu (all Aston Villa), Minto (Charlton Athletic), Awford (Portsmouth), Redknapp (Liverpool), Newton (Chelsea), Anderton (Tottenham), Sinclair (Queen's Park Rangers), Sutton (Norwich), Shipperley (Chelsea), Fowler (Liverpool). Stand-by: Sheppard (Watford); Campbell, Barmby (both Tottenham), Summerbee (Swindon), Joachim (Leicester), Allen (QPR), Stewart (Bristol Rovers), Froggatt (Aston Villa).

Last night's football,

FA Cup countdown, page 39