reports from Wembley
England 3 Switzerland 1
A coach can plot and plan for weeks but, sometimes, it all comes down to luck. Last night fortune smiled on Terry Venables in the most unexpected fashion and England went on to gain their first win in five matches.
More importantly, it was an increasingly impressive performance, with England's second-half display as good as any under Venables' command. It was inspired by Steve Stone, a player who had just 23 minutes international experience prior to last night and had been expected to spend most of the match on the substitutes' bench.
Instead he played all but six minutes and was the architect of England's win. He created one goal for Teddy Sheringham, scored another himself, and generally added vigour and variety to England's attacks.
None of this had seemed likely before the match when Venables based his team around a midfield axis of Paul Gascoigne and Jamie Redknapp, with Steve McManaman scheduled to provide the wing threat.
The latter never happened, but the midfield duo began well, Redknapp threading a fifth minute pass through to Gascoigne, who turned and curled a shot just wide.
"Promising," Venables would have thought from his seat in the Royal Box, only for his smile to fade within seconds as Redknapp clutched at his right hamstring. Exit Redknapp, enter Stone. Paradoxically, England immediately assumed a better shape. Beforehand Robert Lee had looked lost on the right and was crowding Redknapp and Gascoigne in the middle. Now he officially moved inside and Stone went on the flank where he became the source of most of England's best attacks for the rest of the game.
His potency was first seen after 23 minutes when he finished a strong right-wing run with a low pass to McManaman, who was unable to produce a firm shot.
In the meantime, however, England should have been behind. In the 16th minute Gascoigne, dwelling in defence, passed straight to Kubilay Turkyilmaz. The Galatasaray striker was well tackled by Gary Pallister, but he then sliced his clearance. It fell to Adrian Knup who volleyed fiercely but straight at David Seaman, who blocked well.
Gascoigne's generosity - or sloppiness - was matched 18 minutes later by Alain Geiger, the Swiss captain. He hit a clearance straight to Sheringham. The Tottenham striker swiftly passed to Alan Shearer, who shot powerfully but just too close to Marco Pascolo, who made an excellent reaction save.
Two strong runs by Gascoigne revived memories of his peak but Pascolo was equal to the challenge on both occasions, spreading himself well at Gascoigne's feet after 26 minutes and catching his 20-yard shot six minutes later.
The game was already a vast improvement on England's last, the Oslo bore- draw, and, with five minutes to half-time it was enlivened by a goal. Turkyilmaz found space on the right and his cross curled inside the far post, possibly with the aid of a faint touch from Knup, who had got in front of Tony Adams and distracted Seaman.
It was the first goal England had conceded for almost four hours. It also hinted at their second successive Wembley defeat. But, four minutes later, England responded with their first goal for more than four-and- a-half hours. A short corner was pulled back to Stuart Pearce whose shot hit Yvan Quentin's heel and flew past Pascolo.
Luck, at last, was shining on Venables. Its glow increased in the second half as Stone, his enforced substitution, swung the match.
Frank Clark, his club manager, has criticised him for the quality of his crosses - a criticism Stone agrees with. In the 56th minute he delivered a cross which would have had Clark, watching in the stand, purring with pleasure. He was confronted by two defenders when he made it. All they could do was turn and see Sheringham steal ahead of Geiger and glance the ball inside the far post.
Some players shrivel under the pressures of international football, some grow in stature. Stone, it appears, is in the latter group. He could not have looked more at home if the match was in Nottingham.
His emergence comes at a vital time. Darren Anderton, who had seemed earmarked for one flank position, has been injured for most of the season and will not be back until the New Year at the earliest. In addition McManaman is not fulfilling his early promise.
The Liverpool striker seemed marooned on the left wing. Every time he took possession defenders pushed him across the pitch, aware that the right-footed player was unlikely to go by them on the left.
Sheringham's goal - his second for England - came just as the Swiss looked about to take control. They should have been ahead, Turkyilmaz having headed over from Marc Hottiger's cross after a move that had left England exposed in both their marking and defensive shape.
That was one worrying aspect of the night. Pallister and Adams did not look comfortable against the movement of Knup and Turkylimaz and one would hope Steve Howey is back for England's next match, against Portugal on 13 December.
Barring injury, Stone is sure to figure. He capped a memorable night with England's third goal, 11 minutes from time. Sheringham and Shearer, whose understanding grew during the match, linked to set up Shearer for a shot. Pascolo could not hold it and Stone dashed in to score. It was the final word, and it could not have come from a more appropriate figure.
ENGLAND (4-4-2): Seaman (Arsenal); Neville (Manchester United, Adams (Arsenal), Pallister (Manchester United), Pearce (Nottingham Forest); Lee (Newcastle United), Gascoigne (Rangers), Redknapp, McManaman (Liverpool); Sheringham (Tottenham), Shearer (Blackburn) Substitute: Stone (Nottingham Forest) for Redknapp, 6.
SWITZERLAND (4-4-2): Pascolo (Servette); Hottiger (Newcastle), Henchoz (Hamburg), Geiger (Grasshoppers), Quentin (Sion); Ohrel (St Ettienne), Sforza (Bayern Munich), Fournier (Sion), Sutter (Bayern Munich); Knup (Karlsruhe), Turkyilmaz (Galatasaray). Substitutes: Wolf (Lucerne) for Fournier, 69, Grassi (Rennes) for Quentin, 80, Vega (Grasshoppers) for Sutter, 83.
Referee: S Puhl (Hungary).
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