England. . . . . . . . . . . . . .0
GRAHAM TAYLOR gambled England's World Cup place on a new strategy in the Ullevaal stadium last night and was left facing choruses of 'We want Taylor out' and questions about his future.
The manager may protest that his team could still qualify for next year's finals, but England's dispirited followers were in no doubt as to the significance of a second disappointing result in five days, and set off on the long journey home chanting: 'We're so bad, it's unbelievable.'
Successive defeats may have been 'impossible', as Taylor put it, but one point from a possible four is not much better, and leaves Norway, the Netherlands and Poland all in a stronger position going into the final furlong.
For England to qualify they will probably need maximum points from their last three games, which means beating the Dutch away - a task which looks light years beyond them.
They were second-best throughout against the group leaders, who might easily have had more than the two goals they scored either side of half- time, through Oyvind Leonhardsen and Lars Bohinen.
It was a mortifying night for Taylor, who had spent the afternoon in the company of the team psychologist, scaling one of the highest ski jumps in winter sports. He came down from England's hillside hideaway to find himself facing his own personal high-jump. He is not a quitter, and will see the series through to the bitter end, but he has always said he will go if England fail to qualify, and the odds must now favour a change in management before the year is out.
The manner more than the magnitude of the defeat left Taylor in demoralised mood, agreeing with Egil Olsen, the Norwegian manager, who said: 'This is the first time I've ever seen an England team give up in the last 10 minutes.'
Taylor nodded, sheepishly. 'It did look like that,' he said. 'It's another aspect of something that leaves one so shocked.'
An England team had surrendered. Should the manager be sacked? 'That's a question I can understand you asking, but it's one you should direct at my employers.'
So much planning, so much secrecy, so little reward. Taylor had changed both tactics and personnel, redeploying in a 3-4- 1-2 formation, which had a third centre-back, Gary Pallister, drafted in to counter the threat posed by Norway's sky-scraping winger, Jostein Flo.
The defence was augmented by two wing-backs, Lee Dixon and Lee Sharpe, whose brief also included supporting Carlton Palmer and David Platt in midfield. Paul Gascoigne, at least, had his usual role, behind the two strikers. Much good did it do him. For the over-fuelled genius was again largely anonymous.
It was a bold, imaginative game plan, but after only one training session in the new shape England were always going to need time to sort themselves out, and while they were doing so, Norway won the game.
England began encouragingly enough, Dixon releasing Les Ferdinand on the right with a lovely cross-field pass, which enabled the striker to deliver a testing cross from the right. Had he been the one in the middle to receive it, Norway would have been in trouble. Instead, Gascoigne puffed up too late, and a chance was wasted.
They were to be few and far between. England's passing was as ragged as it had been in Poland, and Norway rolled them back all too easily.
Kjetil Rekdal's short free-kick enabled Flo to let fly with a 25- yarder, which brought a smart overhead save from Chris Woods, and Jan Age Fjortoft's near-post header demanded another.
In what was a rare breakout, Ferdinand shot wide from Teddy Sheringham's flick-on. Rare indeed. Normal service was quickly resumed, and the goal Norway had always threatened finally arrived after 42 minutes, when a quick free-kick, taken by Gunnar Halle, caught England flat- footed.
Des Walker was still arguing with the referee when the ball passed him en route to Fjortoft, whose centre from the right was clipped in Leonhardsen, via Dixon's lunge.
The master plan a failure, England were in danger of a hiding, when the Norwegians doubled their advantage, just two minutes into the second half.
Again, poor Walker was static as Bohinen beat Woods at his near post with a crisp shot from the inside-left channel.
Two substitutions - Wright and Clough for Sheringham and Walker - made precious little difference. Wright could be heard above the din, screaming at his team-mates to 'Come on', but it was the Vikings who kept coming, with Goran Sorloth testing Woods yet again.
The group leaders were superior in every phase of play, and nowhere more so than in midfield, where little Erik Mykland was the clever provider England lacked.
Lightning, then, does strike twice in the same place. England's last defeat in a World Cup qualifier was at the same venue, 12 years ago. This time, there was no Voice of Norway to taunt Maggie Thatcher, Winston Churchill and Lady Di, but once again their boys had taken a hell of a beating.
NORWAY: Thorstvedt (Tottenham Hotspur); Halle (Oldham Athletic), T Pedersen (Brann), Bratseth (Werder Bremen), Bjornebye (Liverpool), Flo (Sogndal), Mykland (Start), Leonhardsen (Rosenborg Trondheim), Fjortoft (Rapid Vienna), Rekdal (Lierse), Bohinen (Lillestrom). Substitutes: Sorloth (Rosenborg Trondheim) for Fjortoft, 57; Nilsen (Cologne) for Bratseth, 81.
ENGLAND: Woods (Sheffield Wednesday); Dixon (Arsenal), Pallister (Manchester United), Palmer (Sheffield Wednesday), Walker (Sampdoria), Adams (Arsenal), Platt (Juventus), Gascoigne (Lazio), Ferdinand (Queen's Park Rangers), Sheringham (Tottenham Hotspur), Sharpe (Manchester United). Substitutes: Wright (Arsenal) for Sheringham, h/t; Clough (Nottingham Forest) for Walker, 63.
Referee: S Puhl (Hungary).
----------------------------------------------------------------- WORLD CUP GROUP TWO ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Norway . . . . . . . . . . .6 5 1 0 20 3 11 England . . . . . . . . . . 7 3 3 1 16 6 9 Netherlands . . . . . . . . 6 3 2 1 17 8 8 Poland . . . . . . . . . . .5 3 2 0 8 3 8 Turkey . . . . . . . . . . .8 1 1 6 7 17 3 San Marino . . . . . . . . .8 0 1 7 1 32 1 -----------------------------------------------------------------
Remaining fixtures: 9 June: Netherlands v Norway. 8 Sept: England v Poland. 22 Sept: San Marino v Netherlands; Norway v Poland. 13 Oct: Netherlands v England; Poland v Norway. 27 Oct: Turkey v Poland. 10 Nov: Turkey v Norway. 16 Nov: San Marino v England. 17 Nov: Poland v Netherlands.
WITH 10 matches left in Group Two, England's cause is not yet lost, but even if they win all their remaining games they cannot be sure of qualifying for the finals. Norway's victory last night establishes them as strong favourites, though none of their remaining matches is straightforward, and three are away from home. Assuming the Norwegians qualify, the other place is between England, the Netherlands and Poland, with the unbeaten Poles dangerous dark horses. If they can avoid defeat in their next two games, away to England and Norway, they could oust their more fancied rivals.
Ferguson chases Keane,
Northern Ireland win, page 39