Football: Taylor's striker struggle: Norman Fox finds England's attack in the post-Lineker period is a cause for concern

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The Independent Online
THE THEORY, according to Graham Taylor, David Platt and the rest of what now seems to be a close-knit England clan, is that their World Cup qualifying group will be decided by points, not by the number of goals scored. They suggest that team spirit - which is undoubtedly high, and the old English stand-by - will prevail. Perhaps so, but what if goals do finally decide who goes to the United States in 1994?

Taylor says he has never favoured relying on one outstanding goalscorer and likes the idea of the goals being spread wide. Unfortunately, the spread across the squad is so thin as to be almost imperceptible. If, as widely predicted, John Barnes is not selected against Turkey on Wednesday, Platt will be the only player in the team to have scored international goals in double figures.

Now England's diplomatic captain and forthcoming spokesman, Platt said that had he not scored four against San Marino the chances would probably have been taken by others. The evidence for such confidence is not convincing. But Taylor has made it clear that the squad you see this week is the one you will continue to get save for any sudden emergence of some shining goalscoring meteor (Nick Barmby, perhaps).

The Gary Lineker era of a single outstanding goal-getter is clearly gone but far from forgotten. There is that troublesome feeling that his loss is not going to be overcome by the present bunch, or by bringing in converted defenders, or relying on mundane target men. The situation ought to be a gift for such a natural talent as Ian Wright, but somehow long- term doubts remain.

The only proven international goalscorers in Turkey for an awkward World Cup match will be the self-assured Platt, who nevertheless can hardly be expected to dominate every game as he did the last one, and Barnes, whose international future has been extended only because he is an established member of a squad Taylor says is now more like a club. So the question is whether the manager's loyalty to this largely sound but unexceptional group will be repaid, especially if it comes to doing more than avoiding defeat.

The really big tests have yet to come and the combined loss of Lineker and his most likely successor, Alan Shearer, make it difficult to feel confident that, come the crunch, a predator of Lineker's ability will be waiting in the opposition's penalty area.

Wright has the ability but seven appearances have failed to bring a goal. Taylor says he is convinced that it would take only one goal for Wright to achieve lift-off. If the countdown is abandoned too often we will begin to question whether Wright has a head for heights.

The last days of Lineker gave ample cause for speculation over whether or not Taylor and his captain had fallen out. The probability is that it was more of a stand-off with neither actually confronting the other. Presumably the root of it was Taylor wanting to be his own man and Lineker feeling that he was the senior professional who knew more about the game internationally than the new manager.

Does it matter any more? In a way the whole messy affair was always irrelevant since Lineker had made up his mind to quit while still performing recognisably near his best form. However, had next Wednesday's game been against the Dutch, Poland or Norway rather than a now demoralised Turkey, the fact that a few days ago England were considering attempting to fill the Lineker void by using an uncapped, recently converted defender, is less a compliment to the remarkable flexbility of the unfortunate Paul Warhurst than a worrying reflection on England's inability to be sure who is the best leader of the attacking pack.

In this respect England are scratching around and if, as seems likely, Taylor uses Platt in a deeper midfield role on Wednesday and in the future, sooner or later the difficulties in finding a replacement for Lineker must come home to roost.

Of course, there is always the chance that Paul Gascoigne will contribute a few spectacular goals along the road to qualification, but for the moment, and for the foreseeable future, an awful lot seems to depend on Platt, who was such an inspiration against San Marino but has been having difficulty showing anything like such impressive form in the Italian league.

Having agreed with Taylor that an ideal side has a spread of goalscorers, Platt added: 'If you look at our team there are players there who can score goals but every team has one goalscorer who is the recognised scorer. Gary Lineker was that goalscorer for England and everyone else played a role where they chipped in with goals left, right and centre.

'Maybe that mantle has come on to me, where people expect me to be that outstanding goalscorer, but I won't do that in every game. If I get all the goals all well and good but there will be others who will chip them in around me.

'If the group did come down to goals we're still in a very strong situation. People talk about the 10 goals the Norwegians put past San Marino, but are they going to put four past Turkey?' Are England, away?

(Photograph omitted)

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