Football: Wright to join Shearer in an attack of class

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IAN WRIGHT, the Arsenal striker who Graham Taylor deemed to be incompatible with Gary Lineker, will form a pounds 6m spearhead with Blackburn Rovers' Alan Shearer when England embark on their World Cup qualifying campaign against the Group Two pace-setters Norway at Wembley on Wednesday.

Confirming his choice yesterday, Taylor said: 'I'll surprise myself if I don't play Shearer and Wright. One has had a terrific move, the other's scored 31 goals in 41 games for Arsenal. People keep suggesting it as an exciting partnership. Will it come off or won't it? I don't know. But what we should be looking at is providing them with a service.'

In that respect, Taylor had mixed news as his squad were put through fitness-monitoring at the National Sports Centre at Lilleshall. Paul Gascoigne showed up particularly well in the tests, and his chances of returning to the starting line-up after an 18-month absence increased when Taylor revealed that Trevor Steven was 'unlikely to be fit' after straining a hamstring in Rangers' midweek victory over St Johnstone.

Garry Parker, the uncapped Aston Villa and former Nottingham Forest midfielder, has been put on stand-by for Steven, who was due to link up with the squad last night. Also absent were David Batty and Tony Dorigo, on duty with Leeds United in Barcelona, and Paul Merson, who is under treatment at Arsenal.

As England moved on from Shropshire to their base at Bisham Abbey, Taylor might have been tempted to wrap Shearer and Wright in cotton wool to ensure the dream ticket's freshness against the Norwegians. No one can accuse Taylor of not going with public opinion on this one, although Shearer echoed the manager's note of caution.

'I don't believe any partnership can gel in just one game, although Ian and myself have to be looking to do that,' he said. 'I think our styles might complement each other. Ian is very quick, he gets goals and he takes defenders into areas they don't want to go. And we've both scored a lot of goals this season.'

So far Arsenal's pounds 2.8m capture has seven, eight fewer than Blackburn's pounds 3.3m man. Shearer said that being Britain's most expensive player was 'a privilege - it gives me confidence', while he regarded the rugged tackling by Spain, where England lost 1-0 in last month's friendly, 'as a compliment'. He added: 'The worst pressure I'm under is my baby crying in the middle of the night.'

Talking of which, Britain's best-known blubberer excelled in the first in a series of five exercises devised by Lilleshall's Human Performance Department to gauge the squad's fitness at various stages of the season. During group 'shuttle sprinting', in which the pace quickens by order of a voice on a tape, Gascoigne burned off first Nigel Clough and Paul Ince, then Tony Adams and David Bardsley, and finally Lee Dixon.

Taylor led the cheering, but warned afterwards that the tests were meant as a long-term guide. Set up in response to England's poor display in the European Championship against Sweden, whom the manager considered were in 'better condition', they are aimed at designing appropriate preparation before the finals of major tournaments.

'It will help us find the balance between flogging a dead horse and reviving it,' he said. 'It was an impressive performance by Paul, but he has done a lot of this type of work in his rehabilitation from the knee injury.'

The second group was won by David Platt, of Juventus, and it looked odds-on a Serie A treble when the final 'race' came down to a test of stamina between Sampdoria's Des Walker and Andy Sinton. 'Do it for Italy, Des,' Gazzetta dello Sport's representative called out, to guffaws from the gallery, but Sinton did it for QPR and England.

Jeremy Goss, the Norwich midfielder, will replace Ryan Giggs in Wales's squad for the World Cup Group Four qualifier in Cyprus next Wednesday because the Manchester United winger has a hamstring injury. Bernie Slaven, the Middlesbrough forward, has withdrawn from the Republic of Ireland's squad for the Group Three qualifier in Denmark with an ankle injury.

England's combined harvesters,