International Football: Taylor distraught at rain on his parade: England's expectations focus on success abroad while Gascoigne needs an operation and McCoist suffers cruel break

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GRAHAM TAYLOR had hoped it would be 'Pomp and Circumstance', or at least 'Here We Go', but instead found himself taking his text from Buddy Holly. The morning after the win that got away found it raining in his heart.

Sleep had not come easily after the needless penalty which gave the Netherlands their 2-2 draw at Wembley on Wednesday. England had complicated the task of qualifying for the 1994 World Cup, and the words of the old song came back time and again as the manager tossed and turned in his hotel bed.

They were still on his mind yesterday, when he arrived for a subdued debriefing, and treated his audience to a rueful rendition:

'I tell these blues they mustn't show, but soon the tears are bound to flow, coz it's raining - d'you want to join in lads - raining in my heart. Oh misery, misery. What's gonna become of me?'

Misery, fair enough, but 'what's gonna become of me?' An own goal, if ever there was one. The tabloid rottweilers were licking their lips at that.

The answer, of course, is that he will be savaged, and lucky to survive, in the event of England failing to qualify for next year's finals.

He needed no telling that Wednesday's result had done him more harm than good, and his downbeat manner was taken as tacit acceptance of the fact. Conventional wisdom has it that winning at home is a prerequisite of progress, and England have been held at Wembley by Norway, as well as the Netherlands.

The latest round of matches in Group Two saw them lose ground to the Norwegians and to Poland and also to the Dutch, on the basis that an away draw is more beneficial than a home one. In what is now a four-horse race, the odds favour Norway, who have opened up a one-point lead, and the Netherlands, who trail England only on goal difference, with their home tie against Taylor's team to come on 13 October.

Two points on Wednesday would have insured England against a damaging defeat in either of their forthcoming away games, in Katowice (29 May) and Oslo (2 June). Instead, they now need a minimum of three points from those two matches to sustain their challenge.

Conceding a point from a winning position had deflated players and management alike, but he took comfort in what he called the 'Club England' mentality. Their all-for-one, one-for-all camaraderie would serve them well in the six-week 'international season' which lay ahead. They could also take heart in a performance the manager described as 'excellent'.

Excellent was a trifle hyperbolic. England played well, within their limitations, but with the notable exception of John Barnes's goal, they excelled only at hustling the Dutch and running at them strongly - usually in straight lines. The high-tempo game Taylor had promised was within five minutes of bringing them what would have been a memorable victory, but it would be delusory to suggest it was the quality of England's football which so nearly prevailed.

It was power-play, and the traditional British virtues of pace and persistence which had the Dutch on the back foot. Les Ferdinand is no Bergkamp, Carlton Palmer no Rijkaard, but they will still be running, and competing, when more celebrated opponents are fit only to drop.

Stamina and spirit were not quite enough against the Netherlands' potent mix of strength and skill, but they might have been, had not a fired- up Paul Gascoigne been elbowed out of the game at half-time. The cheekbone damaged by Jan Wouters's flailing arm was found to be fractured yesterday and Gascoigne, who is to have an operation today, will be out of action for at least two weeks.

Disappointment is inevitable, but hold the sackcloth and ashes. The Norwegians are due a slip somewhere, and more gung-ho in Oslo, with Gazza in the van, could conceivably turn the tide in England's favour.

Loyalty and continuity are Taylor buzzwords, and changes will be kept to a minimum. It may be significant, though, that he was not prepared to promise Barnes continued selection in his new, less onerous role, as midfield spear-carrier. Like Gascoigne in Turkey, the Liverpool enigma warded off criticism of another fits-and- starts contribution with a goal from the top drawer. Taylor was inclined to believe his eyes rather than the scoresheet, and praised his old protege's 'mettle' and 'strength of character' rather than the specifics of his play.

Barnes, then, is vulnerable, but the likeliest change would see Martin Keown stand down at left-back, where he was never at ease on Wednesday, either as Ruud Gullit's marker or as a bewildered spare part after the Great Man's withdrawal.

Taylor felt he had 'stood off' Gullit, allowing him too much room, and his failure, in conjunction with Barnes, to prevent Aron Winter from releasing Marc Overmars lay at the root of the equalising penalty.

Des Walker was anything but blameless, allowing the little winger to pass him, then panicking and pulling him over when it would have been more sensible to let an unproven finisher take his chance against Chris Woods's bulk and experience. Walker, however, has stored up sufficient Brownie points in 53 internationals to be excused one lapse. Keown may not be so lucky.

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