Football: Taylor's men profit from perseverance: Flowers, Pallister and Sinton are the plus points for revitalised England

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THE AMERICANS, who have never really come to terms with the sporting draw, were bemused. 'I guess you guys must have won, right?' Wrong. England had 'tied' the Brazilians 1-1, as they say in these parts, but they had sunk so low that avoiding a caning was cause for some celebratory 'refuelling'.

Fair enough, the headlong retreat had been halted, and the longest of marches starts with one step. In truth, though, Sunday's stalemate represented not so much an advance as a welcome decision to burn the white flag and fight.

After the shocking surrender in Oslo and the shambles that was Boston, England dug in and fought well. It was good to see, and their large following in Washington's RFK Stadium loved every steadfast minute.

It would, nevertheless, be delusive to suggest that the manure of the past fortnight had suddenly sprouted summer fragrance. It was a decent result, decently come by, but it was the sort of draw which has become typical of Graham Taylor's managership. England have not lost many during his three-year tenure (five in 34), but they have not won many that mattered, either. He has given us more draws than Toulouse-Lautrec.

Brazil were the better side, as we always knew they would be, but were denied the win they insisted they deserved by the application and determination of a team inspired by three novices.

After replenished morale, the greatest benefit England gained from Sunday's game was the emergence of three new, or comparatively new, players, all of whom should take some shifting.

Tim Flowers, assurance personified in goal on a debut which he admitted frightened him to death, was quick to acknowledge the staunch protection afforded by Gary Pallister at centre-half. The third of the three probationers, Andy Sinton, provided the effective link England have been lacking between defence and attack.

Flowers made some notable saves, was alert to any incursions into his penalty area, and was forever bawling 'good information', to borrow Taylor's phrase, to those in front of him.

He is also a character in a squad not exactly overburdened with them. Taylor had warned him to expect the Brazilians to shoot from anywhere. Branco (who did not play) might even have a go with a corner. 'I thought: Christ, you don't get that in the ZDS Cup.'

It was a false alarm. No one threatened to surprise him, and a confident start has given England a plausible alternative to Chris Woods, whose form has been patchy of late.

Pallister, too, has provided Taylor with another option. Powerful and resolute, he is becoming less prone to the rush-of-blood mistakes which plagued his early days with Manchester United. To say he looks every bit as good as Tony Adams might be seen as damning him with faint praise, but Pallister would not consider it so, and believes he and Adams could operate successfully together, in much the same way that he and the no-frills Steve Bruce work at club level.

Sinton is the happy wanderer of the England team, having gone from left- back to left-wing and all across the midfield before reappearing this time as an old-fashioned inside-right . . . and always with a smile on his face.

'A great pro,' Taylor said. 'I can't speak too highly of him as a person. He's never any trouble at all.'

Trouble might be too strong a word for it, but Sinton was certainly a thorn in the Brazilian's side. Perpetual motion in the sapping heat, he was the player's player of the match. Two- footed and blessed with good control and sound distributive skills, he looked completely at home in distinguished company, and deserves the run in the starting line-up he has so far been denied.

England's plus points were Flowers, Pallister, Sinton and the continuing abundance of David Platt, whose latest goal was his 12th in his last 14 appearances. The captain it is who usually answers Taylor's Micawberish prayer for something to turn up.

On the debit side, the midfield is too plain and compartmentalised without Paul Gascoigne, support for the forwards arriving too slowly and in insufficient numbers. The Brazilians were an object lesson here, breaking out of their own half at high speed and swarming into Flowers' penalty area with alarming force.

At the moment, England's strikers need all the help they can get. Ian Wright had yet another disappointing match, and must be running out of chances. Ditto Nigel Clough, whose lack of pace continues to undermine him at this level.

If England are not to be condemned to trench warfare on the edge of their 18-yard line, they need a target to aim at - someone capable of accepting and retaining possession with his back to goal. Clough lacks the physical attributes for the job, and Wright is another type of striker entirely, preferring the ball played over the top to utilise his speed off the mark.

Alan Shearer would be the answer, and might conceivably bring the best out of Wright. In his absence, and with the injured Les Ferdinand having flown home yesterday, Teddy Sheringham is worth another try against the Germans on Saturday.

The English pro is second to none when it comes to accentuating the positive (there is something to be said for being as good as your last game), and you would hardly know that Oslo or Boston had happened as a revitalised squad arrived here last night, promising the world champions a real battle in the match which brings down the curtain on the US Cup.

'They can win the tournament; we can stop them,' was Taylor's bullish attitude. One draw, and suddenly we are world-beaters. Perspective, like the sweeper system, is something we have never quite mastered.

Despite Tim Flowers's fine debut against Brazil, he will stand down against Germany on Saturday to give Nigel Martyn, of Crystal Palace, a game. 'The only two goalkeepers with any experience are David Seaman and Chris Woods, so I have to give Tim and Nigel some,' Graham Taylor said.