Pearce faces test of loyalty to captain Mancienne
Tuesday 14 June 2011
It was, Liverpool's new acquisition Jordan Henderson agreed, what Ringo Starr famously called a hard day's night. Entirely unexpectedly, Henderson and his England Under-21 colleagues stole a late equalising goal on Sunday evening after being outplayed by Spain and suddenly the second match of their European Championship campaign, against Ukraine tomorrow is something to be approached with confidence.
There is, however, a crucial decision to be taken about whether Henderson can be left to run the midfield with Michael Mancienne alongside him, when the latter is so patently out of touch. Stuart Pearce has stuck by his squad captain, moving him from right-back to a holding role in front of the defence, but on recent evidence Mancienne no longer merits a place in the side. Kyle Walker's bold attacking, compensating for his defensive deficiencies, confirmed that he deserves to stay at full-back and Jack Rodwell of Everton, who replaced Mancienne after 67 minutes of the Spain game, is only one of those pushing for a midfield berth.
Henderson was handed the captain's armband for the rest of the game, which he modestly insisted was merely because he was the nearest player to the departing Mancienne. Pearce has spoken about his centre-halves Chris Smalling and Phil Jones as well as others as potential captains and the new Manchester United clubmates were among those stood up well to a gruelling Spanish inquisition. "It was a tough game, as Spain kept the ball really well like they always do and made it difficult for us when we had the ball," Henderson admitted. "The game plan was to let them come halfway and beyond, then start pressing them."
It will have to be more adventurous against Ukraine, who lost their opening game 2-1 to an impressive Czech Republic side and also need a victory. Henderson will be hoping to impress not only Fabio Capello, who awarded him a senior debut in the home defeat by France last October, but also Kenny Dalglish: "I spoke to the [Liverpool] manager and he said he thinks I can play in a few positions. I'm not really bothered, all I care about is making sure that I'm in the starting XI and playing regular football. If I could choose I'd probably be in centre midfield."
Linking up there with Steven Gerrard for club and country is a possibility, although putting Henderson alongside Jack Wilshere would have benefited England hugely here. Wilshere's craft was one of the things missing against the Spanish, whose one failure, like that of their seniors at the World Cup, was to score the goals their football deserved. As to the next challenge in what looks a particularly tight group - the top two qualify for next week's semi-finals - Henderson said: "Ukraine are a really good side and it will be really tough again for us. We maybe need to express ourselves a little bit more and be a little more confident with a bit more belief going forward. If we do that we can definitely get a good result."
Their prospects were improved yesterday when Ukraine's influential captain Taras Stepanenko was ruled out of the rest of the tournament after suffering a groin injury against the Czechs.
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