Promise revealed by strike pairing

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The Independent Online
MIKE ROWBOTTOM

The managerial judgement on England's forward partnership of Teddy Sheringham and Les Ferdinand was warmly approving: "Every team would love to have players up front like that."

The verdict came from Bulgaria's manager, Dimitar Penev. Terry Venables was measured in his praise, but his sentiments were broadly the same.

"I think Teddy and Les complimented each other very well. Teddy played exceptionally on the night. I think the goal weighed him up - he had his back to Les, but he knew exactly where he was, and he killed off the pass before some people had seen it. Les scored it extremely well."

Despite this encouraging aspect to England's forward play in the absence of the injured Alan Shearer, Venables nevertheless professed himself disappointed that his side did not profit more tangibly.

"We should have been two or three up after the first half," he said. "We have got to be a little bit more ruthless. We slackened in the second half when the job was only half done.

"I always knew they were going to be a hard side to beat. In these games, if you can get a second goal it knocks down the other team's morale. But we gave them space and they gained some confidence. We should have kept the ball more and made them run."

It was, nevertheless, an enjoyable night out on the town for Ferdinand. Three months on from his last, depressing experience at Wembley - when he went off injured 65 minutes into a fruitless attempt to combine up front with Shearer - the Newcastle forward looked his old, ebullient self. The seventh-minute goal that confirmed his altered status was scored with the aplumb which caused him to be named Footballer of the Year earlier in the week.

Not that Ferdinand's evening was without its trials. A lunging tackle from behind by Trifon Ivanov in the 10th minute left Ferdinand ominously still on the turf, clutching his right calf.

For a few moments, as both of England's medical men bent anxiously over him, it looked as if he was going to be cut off in the prime of his evening.

Perhaps it was the activity on the England bench which prompted his recovery. Terry Venables shifted in his seat, looking at his watch. Robbie Fowler, England's 20-year-old striker in waiting sat forward with a mean and hungry look. It was enough to get Ferdinand straight back on to his feet. By the time Ferdinand was replaced by Fowler in the 76th minute he had done more than enough to justify further appearances.

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