Andy Carroll emerged last night as a potentially vital part of Roy Hodgson's England squad and the Liverpool striker may lead the line for England in Norway tomorrow and against France in the first European Championship fixture, in 17 days' time.
Hodgson has admitted that the 23-year-old's burst of form late in Liverpool's season caught his eye and after Danny Welbeck, the striker seen as the most likely to have deputised for the suspended Wayne Rooney, was again unable to train in Manchester yesterday, Carroll's prospects rose further. Tottenham Hotspur's Jermain Defoe is Hodgson's only other option. Welbeck had an individual workout at Manchester City's Etihad Stadium yesterday but, not having played since being injured in the Manchester derby on 30 April, the prospect of him starting in Oslo's Ullevaal Stadium tomorrow evening has all but vanished.
Though Defoe's 46 caps offer by far the greater experience, he has not played for England for 15 months and his club manager, Harry Redknapp, started with him in only three of Tottenham's last nine Premier League games.
It is Carroll who enters the tournament with confidence and Hodgson likes the way he can fit in with other forwards, make runs into the channels to turn defences around, as well as get on the end of crosses – as he demonstrated against Chelsea in the FA Cup final at Wembley earlier this month.
Carroll has had only one minute of competitive England action but, as one of 12 changes to the England squad which travelled to South Africa for the ill-fated 2010 World Cup campaign, he has contributed to what midfielder James Milner described yesterday as a mood of youthful fearlessness in the ranks, which was not present in Rustenburg two years ago.
Five of the 11 players who trudged off the pitch after England's dismal 4-1 defeat to Germany in Bloemfontein will not even be on the plane which leaves Luton Airport for Krakow a week on Wednesday and Milner said that there was "a different feel around the squad now than before".
The Manchester City midfielder described the defeat to the Germans as his lowest moment in football but said: "I think maybe the squad [in 2010] had a lot of players in it who had been to a lot of major tournaments before and maybe had the expectations and the disappointments. This time we have a good mix of experienced players but also the younger players who haven't been to a major tournament, but who have played in under-21 football. The mix of youth and experience will help us do well at the tournament: to have that mix of younger players who haven't gone through, time and time again, the expectations and the disappointments, the unlucky parts of tournament football. [They've not known] the decisions that go against you, like Lamps' goal or not-goal. They are going into it fresh."
Carroll fits that category and in Norway there may also be an opportunity for his Anfield team-mate Martin Kelly, who has been called up to Hodgson's first squad as a back-up but may get his chance, with Glen Johnson's septic foot preventing him from training.
In a mantra which will be very familiar to the England captain, Steven Gerrard, from Hodgson's brief Anfield reign, the new manager spent much time yesterday in discussing with his players the importance of the midfield and defenders keeping their shape and then advancing when they can, to express themselves.
Hodgson's newly appointed coach, Gary Neville, participated in a training session game and took individual defenders aside to provide advice on positioning.
Neville's active involvement lightened the mood, contributing to a more relaxed environment than the former manager Fabio Capello's 2010 squad had been used to. Milner's City team-mate Joleon Lescott said the players found Hodgson to be a better communicator than Capello.
Milner said: "The squad blend, on and off the field, is positive and can only be good going into a tournament when you are going to have ups and downs and you need to pull each other out of the mire when you've had a sending-off or injuries. You need to have a good group who have played for a while."
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