By the left, the old problem has a new answer

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The Independent Football

Understandably for a man paid something in excess of £4m per year, Sven Goran Eriksson is not often to be found queueing for a London bus, but he might be familiar with the concept of waiting an age for something to come along and then finding another turning up immediately afterwards. So it is with left-sided midfield players.

Understandably for a man paid something in excess of £4m per year, Sven Goran Eriksson is not often to be found queueing for a London bus, but he might be familiar with the concept of waiting an age for something to come along and then finding another turning up immediately afterwards. So it is with left-sided midfield players.

It took three and a half years of the Swede's reign before Joe Cole proved in the recent games against Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan that he had both the ability and maturity to become the rounded peg in that most troublesome of round holes. Next game and up pops Kieran Richardson to offer another option.

Perhaps the experience of Middlesbrough's unfortunate Stewart Downing had brought home to the Londoner the necessity of taking a chance when offered it. Touted as the possible solution to Eriksson's problem position at the start of the year, Downing was unable to make any impression in half an hour as a substitute while England slipped into disarray against Holland at Villa Park three months ago. Then an injury in training almost as soon as the squad arrived in Chicago last week forced him home.

So Richardson was thrust into his international debut in the same position and the same stadium where he had appeared in the opening match of Manchester United's American tour last July. There would be no repeat of the soporific goalless draw on that occasion. Richardson made sure of that with his beautifully struck left-footed free-kick after barely three and a half minutes, sending the statisticians scrambling to find a quicker England debut goal.

They were even checking on the last man to score a hat-trick in his first game (Fred Pickering against the same US opposition in 1964) until Richardson was forced to limp off less than quarter of an hour into the second half with a tight hamstring. He had come into the game already high in self-belief after helping West Bromwich survive in the Premiership during his four-month loan and was therefore further inspired by yesterday's startling intervention to do his tricks every bit as confidently as Cole.

The bonus was a second goal, just when England wanted it, and if the home side's marking was poor, Richardson was smart enough to be in position to receive Cole's pass and brave enough to follow through with his less favoured right foot.

It has been, in the end, the season he needed. Snatched from West Ham's youth ranks as something of a child star, he captained the England Under-16s and was once voted player of the tournament in a Uefa Youth Cup. First-team games for United in the Champions' League and League Cup followed as a teenager the season before last, but the following campaign was a quieter one and a summons from Bryan Robson to the Hawthorns in the winter transfer window offered the opportunity to prove he was not standing still.

Once Richardson hobbled off, the figure of greatest interest was probably Andrew Johnson, eventually granted 75 minutes' football which did not quite answer the question of whether his unquestionable poaching instincts will surivive the transition to international level. Used to hard work as a lone striker with Crystal Palace, he had been frankly messed about on his debut as a substitute, stuck out wide on the right for half an hour in the Holland game.

Yesterday he was supported by a deep-lying Alan Smith and then Jermain Defoe, playing on the shoulder of the final defender and chasing passes into the inside-right channel without quite coming across the sort of chances a predator needs. He will not complain, for this is a man who, according to his Crystal Palace fitness trainer John Harbin, has "no ego... as decent a human being as you could wish to find".

A striker with no ego, yet a one single-minded enough to have scored 53 goals in the past two seasons. His worry following Palace's relegation is that Eriksson's chauffeur does not appear to know the way to Championship grounds.

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