Nervy first start for winger playing all over the place

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The Independent Football

Small but perfectly in form. That was the advance billing for Shaun Wright-Phillips, but Manchester City's precocious 23-year-old discovered on his full England debut last night that the step up from fringe candidate to first-team regular in time for next year's World Cup finals may prove a taller order than expected.

Small but perfectly in form. That was the advance billing for Shaun Wright-Phillips, but Manchester City's precocious 23-year-old discovered on his full England debut last night that the step up from fringe candidate to first-team regular in time for next year's World Cup finals may prove a taller order than expected.

Only occasionally before he was substituted did Wright-Phillips display the blend of touchline trickery and searing pace that has led Arsène Wenger to confess his interest in signing him. And when England's best chances fell to him, his composure deserted him. But in mitigation, it cannot be easy when your first starting slot comes in a position, on the right of a front three, that you never play for your club.

During the build-up to the game, Wright-Phillips had been ebullience personified. He was happy to play anywhere, he said, as long as he was in the team. However, from the moment he was paired with the tallest of the schoolchildren with whom each player took the pitch - a girl of roughly his 5ft 5in stature - things started going wrong.

Wright-Phillips initially appeared beset by nerves. After watching the game go on around him for 10 minutes, he strayed infield in an attempt to get involved, only to give the ball away. Dirk Kuijt's shot rebounded off an upright to spare him a greater embarrassment.

Soon he made the first of several switches with Wayne Rooney, pitting himself against another player making his first international start, Jan Kromkamp. The Alkmaar player proved more vulnerable than Giovanni van Bronckhorst, and possibly more anxious than Wright-Phillips.

Or so it seemed. But when presented with two relatively simple scoring opportunities in the space of five minutes, both from balls played in from wide positions, Wright-Phillips performed a passable impersonation of the colleague of whom the 1950s "clown prince", Len Shackleton, once said: "He was unlucky - the ball kept coming to his wrong feet."

Unperturbed by his misses, Wright-Phillips twisted Krom-kamp every which way late in the first half. Once again, though, his miscued finish suggested that he felt inhibited by the occasion.

The curious thing is that Wright-Phillips had already scored a goal of consummate quality for England, against Ukraine as a substitute in August. Then, with the game in its final third and play stretched, the space just seemed to open up for him. The Netherlands, or "Holland Football Club" as the PA announcer greeted their arrival for the second half, looked determined to deny him any such luxury.

For much of Sven Goran Eriksson's reign, it has been incumbent on full-backs such as Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge to provide the width going forward. Now, with a lavishly gifted winger in the side, England struggled to provide him with the service he craved.

Wright-Phillips scarcely touched the ball in the second half before Eriksson introduced two new caps, Stewart Downing and Andy Johnson, just after the hour. Downing is as natural a left-winger as Tariq Ali, so there was no doubt as to where he would operate, though it was surprising to see Johnson, an instinctive finisher, pressed into service in a deep-lying right-sided role as England persisted with their 4-3-3 experiment.

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