Lennon back in the running to claim No 7 shirt
Sparkling display against Croatia was based on the Spurs man's new-found guile
Friday 11 September 2009
When the dust settled on the game of his life yesterday morning, Aaron Lennon would have been struck by the reality that the England No 7 jersey which has for so long looked like it might be his remains a distance off just yet. For all of Lennon's efforts it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Theo Walcott will be Fabio Capello's preferred choice on the right next summer.
But the huge grin that Capello wore when discussing Lennon on Wednesday night was one of a manager who realised that, in the words of Frank Lampard yesterday, he had got another of the "big decisions right" by playing him instead of Shaun Wright-Phillips, whose absence from the Wembley bench suggests that he is a distant third for England's right wing.
Capello said he always knew Lennon was the man to start on the right against Croatia and uppermost in his mind may have been the new dimensions to the Tottenham man's game. The 22-year-old has been trying to add to his obvious ability to operate at pace with the ball at his feet, which can so often see him disappearing into no-man's land. "I've been mixing it, working on different types of crosses, coming inside, shooting with my left, coming outside," he said. "Just mixing it up and trying to be more unpredictable."
Lennon's confidence in Glen Johnson allowed him to operate in the inside right slot more often than we have become accustomed to. It was from there that he delivered the pass which sent Emile Heskey in for one of the two chances he had to break his scoring duck in the group stage late in the first half. Another foray resulted in the ball spinning loose for Steven Gerrard to collect, beginning the move which concluded in the fourth goal.
His attempts to mix things up reflect the maturing of a player who was only 19 when Sven Goran Eriksson gave him his second-half cameo in the fateful quarter-final of the last World Cup against Portugal. "Mixing my game up, that is down to experience and looking at how defenders have tried to mark me," Lennon said. "I've been playing well for my club. My all-round performance is a lot better. I have been working on a lot of different things and I definitely think I'm a more complete player."
Capello will be able to learn in the Ukraine next month and against Belarus in the final group game whether Lennon can overcome inconsistency. The feeling is that Walcott offers more all-round, though statistically there is little to divide them. Walcott's hat-trick in Croatia came in his only scoring appearance for England and he has one assist to Lennon's three. Never, in the 13 times Walcott has represented England and the eight times Lennon has played, has the side lost, penalties aside. Such is the potential.
Lennon admitted that his excitement about South Africa is tempered by an awareness that the right wing might not belong to him. "There are so many quality players so we will have to see." But he has done what he can for now. "If you get a chance you have to take it," he said. He has more than adhered to that mantra.
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