Venables finding the right blend

Ken Jones sees the England manager vindicated by an encouraging victory
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The Independent Online
The expression Terry Venables wore when he left his seat in the stands at Wembley shortly before half-time was more or less that you had seen on the faces of his predecessors. A goal down, a meagre crowd of 29,000 growing restless, perhaps another bad experience to contend with.

As fresh allegations against him had been fed out predictably on the morning of the game, England's coach is entitled to suspicion of a conspiracy designed to embarrass him at the Football Association. Venables has remained buoyant under pressure, but unless England could improve on recent performances it might have looked grim for him.

It could be imagined therefore that Venables was greatly relieved when his arrival on the touchline coincided with a deflected shot from Stuart Pearce that brought England an equaliser.

In the circumstances, to go in level at half-time was undoubtedly a bonus, and the situation improved considerably as England took fresh heart. The introduction of Steve Stone as a substitute for Jamie Redknapp, who was almost immediately troubled by a hamstring injury, had given England the width and directness that is considered central to their attacking efforts.

As soon as he appeared on the right of England's midfield, the Nottingham Forest player began to trouble the Swiss defence and his contribution in the second half, one that brought him the man of the match award, should ensure further opportunities.

Until they were forced to chase the game, Switzerland were always difficult to break down, and their counter-attacks contained all the confidence expected of a team that qualified comfortably for next summer's European Championship. That England were able eventually to break them down justified the strategy that Venables has persisted with despite coming under attack from his critics.

Alan Shearer failed again to end his long famine in the England team, but his partnership with Teddy Sheringham improved as the game went on, and there was evidence of more purpose in midfield with Paul Gascoigne a constant threat around the Swiss penalty area.

A blend had begun to develop, so it was vital that England came out in the second half to capitalise on their good fortune. Certainly, their play became more incisive and Stone's purpose emphasised that a player of his type is essential to the progress Venables hopes to make before next summer. Darren Anderton of Tottenham Hotspur would normally provide opportunities for the strikers, but until his return from injury Stone looks to be more than an adequate replacement.

It was Stone's perfect centre that enabled Sheringham to score with a soaring header, and he was rewarded for persistent effort when a simple chance to put England further ahead came his way. Again Shearer was prominent in the action with a shot that the Swiss goalkeeper could not hold to leave Stone with an opportunity when looking suspiciously offside.