Football: Venables shines spotlight on Cole

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The Independent Online
Given the choice between disappointing Merseyside or enraging the nation, Terry Venables decided to take the line of least resistance yesterday. As a consequence Andy Cole will make his first appearance in England colours tonight since the nationa l coach's appointment.

Cole, whose strike rate with Newcastle United is nearly a goal a game since moving to Tyneside from Bristol City in March last year, will play for England against the Republic of Ireland in the B International at Anfield. It will be his first representative honour since he won the last of his eight Under-21 caps against the Netherlands in October, 1993.

Since then his non-inclusion in the senior squad has infuriated people in Tyneside and mystified others elsewhere to an extent where Kevin Keegan, the Newcastle manager, had to publicly announce it was his decision to withdraw Cole because of shin splints when Venables did not select him to play against the United States and Romania. Now, very much by public demand, the 23-year-old striker gets his chance.

Cole will play alongside Blackburn's Chris Sutton, forming a partnership that has plundered 32 goals this season and will be welcomed just about everywhere except Anfield. Robbie Fowler, Liverpool's 18-goal striker, is not in the team and, indeed, just two of his team-mates - Neil Ruddock and John Scales - have made it to the starting 11. Given that the host club had six in the original squad, one or two Merseyside cynics might wonder if that was just a device to boost ticket sales.

"I'm a fan of his," Venables said of Fowler. "He's done so well, so quickly. But he's still in the Under-21s and he can show what he can do there."

Talking about the strikers he is using, he added: "People have been pushing to see them in an England side and now they have their chance to show their worth. It's a big chance for them. I'm not going to put them under pressure. I have told them this is not the be-all and end-all, just the beginning."

The focus, inevitably, will be on Cole, although Sutton will be anxious to prove he is good enough to extend his club partnership with Alan Shearer from Blackburn to England. Last season, while he was with Norwich, Sutton played in a B international against Northern Ireland and was so subdued it was widely suggested that it put his inclusion into the senior squad into cold storage.

At least Sutton should get an opportunity to prove his aerial ability tonight as Venables has included two wingers, Ruel Fox and Jason Wilcox, while the 11 selected suggests a 5-3-2 formation.

Unseasonally, the England coach appears to have forsaken the Christmas tree formation he has tended to use at full international level in favour of seeing how his second string will adapt to a sweeper system. Ruddock, as he does with his club, is the manmost likely to be holding the broom.

"Both Jack Charlton and myself want to win this game but we're looking for different things," Venables said. "After looking at the pride in the result I want to see how people grow into an England shirt, who is comfortable and who will be of use to us inthe future."

England B: Pressman (Sheffield Wednesday); Barton (Wimbledon), Scales (Liverpool), Ruddock (Liverpool), Campbell (Tottenham), Beresford (Newcastle), Fox (Newcastle), Sherwood (Blackburn), Wilcox (Blackburn), Sutton (Blackburn), Cole (Newcastle).

Republic of Ireland B: Branagan (Bolton); Cunningham (Wimbledon), Kenna (Southampton), Daish (Birmingham), Babb (Liverpool), McAteer (Bolton), Whelan (Southend), Townsend (Aston Villa), McLoughlin (Portsmouth), D Kelly (Wolves), Coyne (Motherwell).