Football: Taylor sings same old status quo song: England manager sticks to familiar faces for World Cup qualifier against Poland with Shearer on stand-by

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The Independent Online
SAME old drudges, same old grudges. If yesterday was supposed to be a new beginning, you would hardly have guessed it, with England's squad for the World Cup tie against Poland as predictable as the managerial beef about the press.

A Polish win at Wembley next Wednesday would seal Graham Taylor's fate and, with some newspapers already speculating as to his successor, he was on the tetchy side of abruptness when it came to discussing his chosen 22.

No, he would not talk about Paul Gascoigne's fitness - or lack of it. 'He is in the squad, and that's all I'm prepared to say.' Why was the Babbling Brook, as one paper had dubbed him, suddenly so reticent? He had 'lost confidence' in the press, and we had to draw our own conclusions.

Fair enough. Gascoigne is still not in the peak of condition - this despite the fact that Gazza's peak is another man's plateau - and completed only two-thirds of Lazio's goalless draw on Sunday, but England's dearth of potential match-winners is such that they will continue to make allowances for their spoilt genius, and have others do his running.

When it came to lesser mortals, Taylor was more forthcoming. Stuart Pearce was back, as captain, because England needed his flexed-muscle leadership. Of the eight games he missed with knee trouble, just two were won. No coincidence, the manager felt.

'Sometimes you only fully appreciate people when they're not there. Pearce has what I call a presence about him. That's why he'll be captain.'

Rob Jones also returns, 18 months after his acclaimed debut against France. The Liverpool defender is one of three right-backs - Earl Barrett and David Bardsley are the others - hoping to profit from Lee Dixon's foot ligament injury.

Taylor had been encouraged by the early form shown by Jones and the resurgent Lee Sharpe, but the tie has come a week too early for another young lion making impressive strides on the road to renewal. Alan Shearer, the striker of whom there are such high hopes, has yet to play even half a match for Blackburn Rovers this season, and gets no further than the stand-by replacements.

It must have been tempting to have him on the bench, at least, but Taylor said: 'He needs games under his belt. I've had a chat with Kenny Dalglish, and I agree with him entirely on that. I've put him on stand-by so that if there is an emergency during the build-up we can pull him in, but I hope it doesn't come to that. I'm looking for him to be ready for the following game, against the Dutch.'

In Shearer's absence, the squad bears a strong, and unfortunate, resemblance to the one disgraced in Oslo and Boston at the start of the summer. There are no fresh faces, no uncapped players. Instead, Taylor continues to preach continuity - this after three wins in 14 matches.

He told a sceptical audience: 'I'm saying to the players: you've done everything pretty well, right up to Norway. Now let's get it right again in these next three games, and we'll be on our way to the World Cup.'

He had been urged to pick Shearer, John Fashanu and Mark Hateley, among others, but preferred to put his faith in five forwards (Wright, Ferdinand, Sheringham, Clough and Merson) whose combined return is three goals. The alternatives? Another subject he declined to discuss. 'Let's just talk about the people I've selected, eh?'

His choice had been made employing the usual criteria. 'I select players, in the main, on what they are doing at international level. It's all right saying pick the fellas in form, but you are talking about people in form at club level, not international football. That's different. In this particular case I've worked on the basis of what they've been doing at international level.'

By that reckoning, Nigel Clough, without a goal after 14 appearances, is a lucky Young Man still to be around, and Tim Flowers is entitled to feel more than a little aggrieved by his omission. The Southampton goalkeeper had an excellent debut against Brazil in Washington, yet now finds himself excluded in favour of Chris Woods, whose recent performances for England have been unconvincing, at best.

No confidence in the press? Someone muttered that the feeling was mutual and the gloves were off, with the Sun rooting around their vegetable patch again. If the Poles win, they will cover The Turnip in borscht.

----------------------------------------------------------------- THE ENGLAND SQUAD ----------------------------------------------------------------- Age Caps Goals Chris Woods (Sheff Wed). . . . 33 43 - David Seaman (Arsenal). . . . .29 9 - Rob Jones (Liverpool). . . . . 21 1 - Earl Barrett (Aston Villa). . .26 3 - David Bardsley (QPR). . . . . .28 2 - Des Walker (Sheff Wed). . . . .27 58 - Tony Adams (Arsenal). . . . . .26 26 4 Gary Pallister (Man Utd). . . .28 9 - Stuart Pearce (Nottm For). . . 31 53 3 Tony Dorigo (Leeds). . . . . . 27 14 - Carlton Palmer (Sheff W). . . .27 17 1 David Batty (Leeds). . . . . . 24 14 - David Platt (Sampdoria). . . . 27 42 20 Paul Ince (Man Utd). . . . . . 25 9 0 Paul Gascoigne (Lazio). . . . .26 27 5 Andy Sinton (Sheff Wed). . . . 27 10 - Lee Sharpe (Man Utd). . . . . .23 6 - Ian Wright (Arsenal). . . . . .29 13 1 Les Ferdinand (QPR). . . . . . 26 4 1 Teddy Sheringham (Spurs). . . .27 2 0 Nigel Clough (Liverpool). . . .27 14 0 Paul Merson (Arsenal). . . . . 24 12 1 ----------------------------------------------------------------- STAND-BY: T Flowers (Southampton); N Winterburn (Arsenal); M Keown (Arsenal); T Steven (Rangers); A Shearer (Blackburn). -----------------------------------------------------------------