FOOTBALL: ENGLAND v NETHERLANDS: Nervy first start for winger playing all over the place

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The Independent Online
SMALL BUT perfectly in form. That was the advance billing for Shaun Wright-Phillips, yet Manchester City's precocious 23-year-old found on his full England debut last night that the step up from fringe candidate to first-team regular in time for next year's World Cup finals may prove a taller order than expected

Wright-Phillips, who was substituted in the second half, seldom displayed the blend of touchline trickery and searing pace that led Arsene Wenger to confess that Arsenal coveted him. Worse still, when England's best chances fell to him, his composure deserted him. In mitigation, however, it can not be easy when your first starting role comes in a position, on the right of a front three, that you never play for your club.

Sven Goran Eriksson, who played him there, was stating the obvious when he noted afterwards that Wright-Phillips had been nervous. Chatting to the media on Monday the player was ebullience personified. But from the moment he was paired with the tallest of the schoolchildren with whom each player took the pitch - a girl of roughly his 5ft 5in stature - things started going wrong.

Wright-Phillips appeared anxious. After watching the game bypass him for 10 minutes, he ventured infield in an attempt to get involved, only to give the ball away. Dirk Kuijt's shot rebounded off an upright to spare him a greater embarrassment.

Soon he began switching flanks with Wayne Rooney, pitting himself against another player making his first international start, Jan Kromkamp. The Alkmaar defender proved more vulnerable than the wily Giovanni van Bronckhorst, and possibly more uneasy than Wright-Phillips.

A goal can redeem the most flawed performance. But when presented with two relatively simple opportunities in the space of five minutes, both from balls played in from wide positions, Wright-Phillips gave a passable impersonation of the player of whom the 1950s "clown prince", Len Shackleton, once quipped: "He was unlucky - the ball kept coming to his wrong feet."

Late in the first half, he twisted Kromkamp every which way to bring the Holte End to its feet. Again, though, a miscued finish underlined his inhibition.

The curious thing is that Wright-Phillips has already scored a goal of consummate quality for England, as a substitute against Ukraine. Then, with the game in its final third and play stretched, the space just opened up for him. The Netherlands, or "Holland Football Club" as the PA announcer greeted their arrival for the second half, had been forewarned and were sufficiently organised to deny him such a luxury.

For much of Eriksson's reign, it has been incumbent on full-backs such as Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge to provide the width going forward. Now, with a lavishly-gifted winger in the side, England struggled to provide him with the service he craved.

Wright-Phillips scarcely touched the ball in the second half before departing as Eriksson introduced two new caps, Stewart Downing and Andy Johnson. Downing is as natural a left-winger as Tariq Ali, so there was no doubt where he would operate. It was more surprising to see Johnson, an instinctive penalty-box finisher, toiling in a deep-lying, right-sided role as England persisted with their unproductive 4-3-3 experiment.