England call on Johnson to fill void in attack

Click to follow
The Independent Football

It would seem that Steve McClaren is reinstating Sven Goran Eriksson's rejects one-by-one and yesterday it was the turn of Andy Johnson to follow Jermain Defoe back into the fold after he slipped out of the reckoning for the World Cup finals last season. The Everton striker is in the England squad to face Andorra next Saturday as McClaren's attacking options dwindle even further.

No Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen, or Dean Ashton means that Everton's £8.6m signing has a good chance of seeing some action in the two Euro 2008 qualifying matches - McClaren's first competitive games in charge - against Andorra or Macedonia the following Wednesday. While Andorra at Old Trafford provide a good opportunity for some experimentation, McClaren faces a serious problem at right-back.

Gary Neville has been ruled out of the two matches with a calf problem that he picked up in Germany and forced him to sit out three games of the tournament. His injury highlights one of McClaren's most significant problems: a long-term replacement at right-back for the man who has been one of England's most reliable performers for more than a decade.

There is scarcely an understudy of sufficient quality, never mind a successor, and the job will go to either Wes Brown, Luke Young or Neville's brother Phil over the next 10 days. It might have proved a radical notion but the option of converting the exiled David Beckham into an emergency right-back is clearly not in McClaren's thinking.

The England manager said: "It's always disappointing to lose someone of Gary's quality and experience. He's an important part of the squad, but we have good cover in Luke Young and Phil Neville who are very capable deputies."

Against Andorra, whose first international match as a sovereign nation came in November 1996, 18 months after Gary Neville made his England debut, the lack of a world-class right-back may not be a cause for concern for McClaren. However, the absence of a top-class replacement - Jamie Carragher is injured - may persuade him to opt for a three-man backline and wing-backs, a formation he often used at Middlesbrough.

Theo Walcott has been kept in the Under-21s, leaving the way open for Johnson. While he may now regret the advice from his former club chairman, Simon Jordan, at the beginning of last season that playing for Crystal Palace in the Championship would not be an impediment to his international career, the 25-year-old Johnson said last night that he was relieved to be back in the England squad.

"When I joined Everton I said that it would be good for my international ambitions and that's been proved right," he said. "Every player wants to represent his country and I am no different in that. I just hope that now I can actually play a part in the two games. I am happy with my form at Everton and I have to thank the lads who have made it very easy for me to settle in."

The other enforced changes mean that Michael Carrick comes back after missing the Greece game while Carragher (ankle) is out. Joe Cole is understood to be close to fitness but, following discussions with Jose Mourinho, McClaren has agreed to give the Chelsea midfielder more time to recover from the knee injury he picked up in the pre-season tour of the United States.

The Football Association was still selling tickets for the Andorra match yesterday and, given that the entire population of that nation, ranked 131st in the Fifa world ratings, could be accommodated by Old Trafford's 76,000 capacity, a full house would be a great achievement. The England team fly out to Skopje in Macedonia on the Monday after the match.

The victory over Greece has gone some way to reviving the interest in the England team following a dismal World Cup quarter-finals exit although playing Andorra, arguably the weakest team ever to play a competitive international against the national side, is double-edged. In their past two matches at Old Trafford, England have scored 10 goals and more will be expected come next Saturday.

The landlocked Pyrenean principality have won only three times in their history and their two best players, Ildefons Lima and Sergi Moreno, play for the Serie B side Triestina Calcio and the La Liga club Getafe respectively. Anything short of an emphatic victory would be embarrassing - anything worse would be unthinkable.

Euro 2008 qualifiers squad

* England squad (European Championship Group E qualifiers v Andorra, Old Trafford, 2 Sept; v Macedonia, Gradski Stadium, Skopje, 6 Sept): Robinson (Tottenham Hotspur), Kirkland (Liverpool), Foster (Manchester Utd), A Cole (Arsenal), Young (Charlton), P Neville (Everton), Bridge, Terry (both Chelsea), Ferdinand, Brown (both Manchester Utd), Dawson (Tottenham), Lampard (Chelsea), Hargreaves (Bayern Munich), Carrick (Manchester Utd), Gerrard (Liverpool), Jenas (Tottenham), Wright-Phillips (Chelsea), Richardson (Manchester Utd), Downing (Middlesbrough), Lennon, Defoe (both Tottenham), D Bent (Charlton), Johnson (Everton), Crouch (Liverpool).