Toothless England draw a blank

INTERNATIONAL FOOTBALL: Venables' men take backward steps as Norway preserve their four-year unbeaten home run
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The Independent Online

reports from the Ullevaal stadium, Oslo

Norway 0 England 0

England did not lose last night, and they did not concede a goal. Given the defeats inflicted in their last two matches in Norway that is at least something for which they can be thankful. However, that is almost the sum total of positive things to be said about an eminently forgettable match against the spoilers of international football.

After the promise of the performance against Colombia last month this was a retrograde display by England against an outdated but still effective style. The only consolation was the absence of any crowd trouble, although that was probably because those watching were bored rigid by the soporific fare in front of them.

The most worrying aspect for the coach, Terry Venables, was England's lack of potency in front of goal. Although Nick Barmby played further forward, to make a two-pronged attack with Alan Shearer, England only managed two shots on goal. This was their fourth goalless draw in 12 matches under Venables. It was Shearer's ninth start without a goal. Les Ferdinand, in such rich form for Newcastle, did not even make the substitutes' bench.

One player who did was Steve Stone who became the 20th new cap under Venables when he came on for the last quarter. He gave England a width that neither Dennis Wise nor Steve McManaman had been able to provide. McManaman came inside early, having been starved of possession the wing, but he was still unable to get involved in the danger areas.

In the centre Robert Lee made few of the forward runs which are so much a feature of his play at Newcastle while Jamie Redknapp spent most of his time passing sideways as he looked in vain for movement in front of him. This was partly because there were few places for Shearer and Barmby to run into; England's measured build-up gave Norway plenty of time to pull players back. They fielded a 4-5-1 formation, with the emphasis on quick breaks, early crosses and set-pieces.

Such route-one football, while it fails them at the top level, has enabled Norway to build an undefeated home record of 19 matches over four years. Included in that run was the debacle of June 1993 when Graham Taylor's hapless England had meekly succumbed 2-0. Five of that Norwegian team survived but only two of the English one were present: Gary Pallister and Tony Adams. Another, Teddy Sheringham, was on the bench having been surprisingly preferred to his partner that afternoon, Ferdinand.

England started nervously when Adams miskicked and Stuart Pearce fouled within the first 14 seconds. Then David Seaman dropped a high cross from Lars Bohinen, under pressure from the giant Tore Flo. Seaman gathered the ball at the second attempt and quickly redeemed himself, making a fine save as Mini Jakobsen shot from 20 yards. Barmby did get to the byline after eight minutes but his cross just eluded Shearer and England did not threaten again in the first half-hour.

Eventually, 37 minutes into the half, Erik Thorstvedt was called upon to make a save. But, after Gary Neville had crossed from the right, Shearer's 20-yard volley was too weak to worry the Tottenham goalkeeper. Within a minute Jan Age Fjortoft's low cross brought a more demanding save from Seaman. Lee then forced Thorstvedt to sprawl across his box to save.

The second period began promisingly as Lee had to make a strong tackle to deny Bohinen in the six-yard box, then Seaman slipped but recovered as Oyvind Leonhardsen shot from 25 yards. Sterility, however, was soon restored.

Midway through the half England brought on Stone and Sheringham for Barmby and Wise. Stone made an immediate impact, stealing possession from Stale Solbakken as he broke into the area and shaped to shoot. England also created a chance, their best, after 75 minutes, but McManaman failed to control Neville's perceptive cross.

Although Seaman made another good save, from a Stig Inge Bjornebye free- kick, England finished the brighter. Stone's low cross caused rare confusion in the Norwegian area. However, he is likely to be the only person to remember this match with any affection.

ENGLAND (4-4-2): Seaman (Arsenal); G Neville (Manchester United), Pallister (Manchester United), Adams (Arsenal), Pearce (Nottingham Forest); Wise (Chelsea), Lee (Newcastle), Redknapp (Liverpool), McManaman (Liverpool); Barmby (Middlesbrough), Shearer (Blackburn). Substitutes: Stone (Nottingham Forest) for Wise, 67, Sheringham (Tottenham) for Barmby, 67.

NORWAY (4-5-1): Thorstvedt (Tottenham); Loken (Rosenborg Trondheim), R Johnsen (Besiktas), Berg (Blackburn), Bjornebye (Liverpool); T A Flo (Tromso), Bohinen (Blackburn), Rekdal (Lierse), Leonhardsen (Wimbledon); Jakobsen (Rosenborg Trondheim); Fjortoft (Middlesbrough). Substitutes: Solbakken (Lillestrom) for Leonhardsen, 62, Brattbakk (Rosenborg Trondheim) for Fjortoft, 79.

Referee: K-E Nilsson (Sweden).

European Championship and other reports, results, page 31