Football: Search still on for left-sided solution

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LAYING ASIDE his team's lack-lustre and guileless display against Scotland on Wednesday, Kevin Keegan now appears to believe that finding a solution to his "left-side problem" will put him well on the way to realising his whole team's potential.

Although the England team have been falling over their Achilles' heels recently, so abundant have they been, Keegan is especially concerned about who to play in the position that was once graced by John Barnes and Chris Waddle but has been sadly hard to fill in recent times.

The Euro 2000 play-offs, Keegan said on Wednesday night, had not been the time to experiment, but he gave a good indication that experiments will be on the cards soon.

"It would have been wrong to blood players like Steve Froggatt and Steve Guppy in games like this," Keegan said. "I can try someone in an atmosphere where it is not be-all and end-all."

Leicester's Guppy played in the friendly against Belgium earlier this year and gave a reasonable account of himself but it is understood that Keegan hopes to give Coventry's Froggatt the first chance to show his potential in next February's friendly against Argentina.

If neither of these two are up to the job, then who else is there? Tim Sherwood, David Batty and Ray Parlour, all right-footers, have been tried this year and failed to adapt out of position. Two others, Jamie Redknapp and Phil Neville, are possibles, but Keegan appears to have ruled out such an option.

Using horse racing terminology, but not presumably because his side performed like a team of donkeys, he said on Wednesday: "My hope was that Jamie and Phil might `come on' tonight after a run on Saturday but Scotland forced us left. Phil Neville put one or two half-decent crosses in but it is not his natural side. I can't blame them, I went to them and said `thanks a lot', you gave it your best shot."

There appear to be few or no options of placing a natural striker out on the left, a role Alessandro Del Piero plays for Italy and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer plays for Norway. The most obvious Englishman who might adapt is the naturally left-footed Robbie Fowler, but he is not a good crosser of the ball.

Chelsea's Graeme Le Saux, when fit, will automatically reclaim a place at the back, but would not be asked to play a traditional winger's role. His club team-mate, Dennis Wise, might be able to perform the role, but Keegan would be gambling with the player's temperament. Sunderland's Michael Gray is another wing-back option but looked out of his depth when he was given his chance at the end of last season.

Tottenham's Darren Anderton is right-footed but has played on the left, notably under Terry Venables. His fitness record is not good, however. Another option could be West Ham's Trevor Sinclair, a natural right-footer but versatile with it.

The list goes on but is not inspiring. Lee Hendrie of Aston Villa (whose form had dipped), Steve McManaman (not proven at international level) and Stuart Pearce (broken leg, but might be a last resort when recovered) will all be considered.

It was not long ago that the big dilemma was who should replace Paul Gascoigne in the middle. With all this talk of the "left-sided" problem, one might be forgiven for thinking that that has been solved.