Football: England call surprises Armstrong

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KEVIN KEEGAN never quite realised the dreams of the Toon Army when he was manager at Newcastle, but yesterday he made one Geordie's fantasy come true.

Keegan, faced with the loss of three of his five strikers, called up Newcastle-born Tottenham striker Chris Armstrong for England's World Cup qualifier against Poland at Wembley on Saturday.

The summons was a shock for Armstrong, not least because he has been chosen ahead of his team-mate Les Ferdinand, who kept him on the bench for Sunday's Worthington Cup Final success over Leicester. Ironically Armstrong's first training session with the England squad will be at Wembley this morning.

Armstrong is certain to be on the bench at least on Saturday with Alan Shearer and Andy Cole likely to play up front following yesterday's withdrawal of Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Chris Sutton. Keegan also lost Darren Anderton who, within hours after extolling Eileen Drewery's healing powers on television on Tuesday night, succumbed to his latest groin strain.

There was better news for Keegan with both his goalkeepers, David Seaman and Nigel Martyn, showing promising improvement with their respective shoulder and back injuries.

For a coach who has spent most of his working life surrounding himself with forwards, Keegan must have felt very lonely as he coached England yesterday. With Newcastle or Fulham, the solution would have been simple - phone the chairman, ask for his cheque book, and sign someone. With England it is not so simple. With so many foreign players filling the striking positions (Cole is the only English forward among the top three Premiership teams), it is a case of scouring clubs for a fit and eligible player.

Keegan came up with Armstrong whose initial international experience was playing in goal for North Wales. He later won an England B cap but has never been close to the full squad before.

The call-up caps a remarkable rise for a player who gave up the game at 16. After living on Tyneside and in South London with his natural family, he spent time in childrens' homes before being fostered by Roy and Pam Armstrong in North Wales. Although he played in goal for his local club he did play outfield at school but stopped at 16 to work in a burger bar for pounds 30 a week as a YTS school leaver. A friend persuaded him to play again and he was spotted by Wrexham. Transfers to Milwall and Crystal Palace followed before he was signed, for pounds 4.5million to replace Jurgen Klinsmann at White Hart Lane in August 1995.

The 27-year-old began well with 15 league goals in his first season but has since been troubled with injury. Keegan, however, said of him: "He has pace and won't let us down. He has had a good season and I know we can rely on him.

"I believed that one or two of the players who had problems might have recovered in time but we have been out of luck. With Michael Owen it was a battle against the clock and I just could not risk either him or the others."

Keegan stressed that Armstrong was in as cover and alluded to the difficulties he had faced when he pointed out that even the under-21s had lost Emile Heskey, who might have stepped up if fit.

Anderton's withdrawal increases the likelihood that either Ray Parlour or Tim Sherwood or both will make a debut on Saturday. Arsene Wenger, Parlour's club manager at Arsenal, said he was confident that Parlour could play in a central midfield role thus releasing David Beckham to play on the right where his crossing ability could prove crucial.

Wenger said: "He loves to work for the team, has good vision, is powerful, and can provide acceleration in bringing the ball out."