Football: Wilkinson finds room for Wilcox

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The Independent Online
JASON WILCOX reaped the benefit of the change in England management last night as he was called up by Howard Wilkinson, the caretaker coach, for Wednesday's Wembley friendly international with France. Wilcox becomes the first player specifically chosen by Wilkinson, who made no changes to the list he had been left by Glenn Hoddle when he named the 24-man squad last week before his dismissal.

The Blackburn left-winger joined the rest of the party at Bisham Abbey last night as cover for Paul Merson, who picked up a knock in Aston Villa's match against Blackburn on Saturday. His inclusion, after nearly three years without a call-up, strengthens speculation that Wilkinson will revert to a 4-4-2 formation. The original squad had no left-footed attacking player in it.

Wilcox has played one previous international, against Hungary at Wembley in May 1996. That was in the build-up to Euro 96 and, though he performed creditably, he was not given a game on the subsequent tour of China and left out of the championship squad. Injury, followed by suspensions and periodic loss of form, have kept him out of the England squad since, though he was put on stand-by in one of Hoddle's early selections and played in England B's defeat to Chile a year ago.

The 27-year-old has spent all his career at Blackburn and was a member of the successful 1994-95 championship-winning squad, when he formed a left-flank partnership with Graeme Le Saux which provided excellent service to Alan Shearer, now the England captain. The trio will now be re-united at Wembley.

Meanwhile, the sports minister Tony Banks has denied playing a part in Glenn Hoddle's downfall. Hoddle accused Banks of "jumping on the bandwagon" in the wake of the former England coach's comments about the disabled which eventually led to him losing his job.

However, Banks said: "I am disappointed that Glenn felt I had played a part in his removal. I certainly didn't jump in and as far as a bandwagon was concerned, when you are a public figure like the sports minister when a sports-related situation emerges you can't have no opinion.

"I was being asked `well, what are his chances of survival?' And I was saying `well, quite frankly his position is becoming increasingly untenable.'

"That is an assessment on his position. I never at any stage called for him to resign or for him to be sacked," he told Radio 5 Live.

Hoddle claimed on Saturday: "What disappointed me was the sports minister - don't you think he should have phoned me first? He jumped on the bandwagon a little bit too quick. That built up, that snowballed and in the end the press could react on the back of that."