Football: Injury puts Parlour on hold for Wembley

IT SEEMED too good to be true and so it was. Kevin Keegan's delight at having his full squad turn up for the European Championship play-off with Scotland was tempered yesterday when Ray Parlour dropped out of contention for Saturday's first leg.

Steve McManaman's fitness was also concerning England's medical staff last night but there was better news on the other players with niggling injuries, most of whom trained yesterday.

Parlour, who last played for Arsenal in the Wembley defeat to Fiorentina on 27 October, has returned to Highbury for treatment but it is hoped he will rejoin England on Sunday and be available for the play-off second- leg at Wembley on Wednesday.

Since he now plays for Real Madrid, McManaman, who has been out for six weeks, is less likely to return to his club. However, the Wembley match also seems a more feasible target for him.

While their absence would reduce Keegan's options at Hampden, neither player was likely to start. Four who are were, to Keegan's relief, back in training yesterday. Alan Shearer, Michael Owen, Tony Adams and Martin Keown all took part in the session which was switched to the Madejski Stadium, Reading, to protect the pitches at England's customary Bisham Abbey base. The only other player to miss training was Andy Cole and he is expected to join in this morning in what Keegan regards as the key session. "Thursday is when you get experienced players building themselves up for the game," he said.

After the session England will fly north to their Scottish base, a former baronial pile on the banks of Loch Lomond. It is an appropriate choice. The last man to score a goal in an England-Scotland match once lived in the hotel for several months while he played for Rangers. Maybe Keegan is hoping the spirit of Paul Gascoigne's football, not his tendency to self-destruct, will rub off.

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