McClaren pressed to bring back Woodgate

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The Independent Online

The Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate believes that his predecessor at the Riverside, Steve McClaren, could justifiably recall both Jonathan Woodgate and Portsmouth's Sol Campbell to his England squad. McClaren may also do well, according to Southgate, to hand an international comeback to Campbell's Pompey team-mate, goalkeeper David James.

"Fortunately I'm not in the position to have to make decisions like that, because there are a lot of outstanding candidates," Southgate said. "But Jonathan and Sol are certainly playing at that level, and the saves James made in the last few minutes against us at Portsmouth [in Tuesday's 0-0 Premiership draw] showed there are not too many better goalkeepers around."

Woodgate's miserable injury record and Campbell's problems at Arsenal, before his move to Pompey this season, seemed to have wrecked both players' international prospects.

But Woodgate, who won the first of his eight England caps alongside Southgate in Bulgaria eight years ago, produced another performance that proved he is ready for an international return. Southgate said: "Since Jonathan has come in, we've noticed a big difference in our defending. We are a lot more confident and we've defended better as a team."

After Tuesday's draw, Boro have still to beat Portsmouth in eight Premiership meetings and lost 4-0 at home to Harry Redknapp's side in August. But there was little chance of a repeat with Woodgate's experience in the Boro defence. There was also little prospect of a breakthrough at the other end with Campbell and the 36-year-old James performing so well.

Redknapp said: "There is no one better than James at the moment. Of course, he should be back for England. But Steve McClaren picks the team now and maybe he has moved on.

"I don't know how keen Sol is about getting back in the squad, but he is certainly doing a fantastic job for us, and don't forget you have plenty of great young central defenders around like [John] Terry and Rio [Ferdinand]."

Southgate was also delighted with his reserve goalkeeper, Brad Jones, who stepped in for the injured Mark Schwarzer at Fratton Park for his first Premiership game of the season and showed that he could soon challenge his compatriot for the Australia No 1 jersey. Southgate said: "He is on standby for Australia's game next week, and I wouldn't be at all worried about picking him. He made some very good saves against Pompey and showed that he has a great temperament.

"He has been on loan at Sheffield Wednesday this season, and we'd had some interest in him from West Brom during the transfer window. But their valuation didn't match ours, and I was delighted to keep him."

Boro hope Schwarzer, who had a back problem, can face Arsenal on Saturday, but Southgate said: "If Brad has to come in again it is not a worry. I remember his first game for Middlesbrough was against Arsenal. He had to come in at 20 minutes' notice when Mark was injured in the warm-up, and he did well then." Southgate did not mention that Arsenal won that game in April 2005, and that Jones' next meeting with the Gunners, at Highbury a year ago, ended in a 7-0 Boro defeat.

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