Sheringham gets the nod from Wilkinson

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The Independent Football

England's regular caretaker stepped back into the breach yesterday declaring: "I expect no mercy."

England's regular caretaker stepped back into the breach yesterday declaring: "I expect no mercy."

Dame Fortune immediately took Howard Wilkinson at his word, ruling out two of his key players, David Beckham and Steve Gerrard, through injury. Beckham has a medial ligament problem in his knee which needs rest but, said Wilkinson, not surgery. Gerrard continues to be troubled by a thigh strain.

Wilkinson, who has been seconded, as he was last February when Glenn Hoddle was dismissed, from his post as the FA's technical director, will also have to assess the condition of four other players before flying to Finland for Wednesday's World Cup qualifier this afternoon. Graeme Le Saux (calf), Gary Neville (toe) and Paul Scholes (foot) have knocks, while Paul Ince is concerned about being away from his wife, who is due to give birth this week.

In response Wilkinson will be calling up Teddy Sheringham. The 34-year-old may not be the most obvious replacement for two midfielders but many thought the Manchester United striker should have been in the original squad and, with Scholes doubtful - and neither Robbie Fowler nor Emile Heskey match-fit - it looks a good first move.

So, too, does the appointment of Brian Kidd, formerly Manchester United's assistant manager, now Director of Youth at Leeds, and Stuart Pearce, the West Ham defender, to replace Arthur Cox and Peter Beardsley on the backroom staff.

They followed Kevin Keegan, their protege and mentor respectively, by resigning from the England set-up at the weekend. Pearce, who was with the Under-18s in Italy, is being groomed for a long-term coaching role with England, while Kidd is a respected coach who has worked with several of the squad.

Wilkinson said he "was shocked and saddened" by Keegan's resignation, adding: "I spoke to him this week and nothing in his voice, or what he said, gave me any indication this was a remote possibility. The players are shocked and surprised but there is a very good spirit. Now we have to get on with Wednesday.

"I am a coach who believes in preparation, but I have three days and two training sessions to pick a team, devise a way of playing, and try to communicate it. I know a lot more about Finland than I did last night and have watched both their qualifying matches so far [a win over Albania, defeat in Greece] but in the time available it is more about us than them.

"I will talk to the players about pride in performance, about leaders in the group. There are still 21 points to play for. It is a better situation than the one Kevin was faced with [to qualify for Euro 2000] when he took over."

Wilkinson's previous stint as England manager saw him oversee a 2-0 home defeat to France with similarly limited preparation time. He said to the media yesterday, at a hastily called press conference in the grounds of the team hotel: "My experience then leads me to expect no mercy. I am going into it with my eyes wide open. You will make judgements which I think are completely unreasonable about me, my prospects, my effect on the team.

"It doesn't matter in the broad scheme of things but is difficult for the person in the middle. But I'm a realist, that goes with the territory.

"If you underestimate the baggage which goes with this job you deserve to pay for it. Big boys don't cry. It's not a poisoned chalice, it's a fantastic job, a coach's dream. Ten games a season, that's an average five weeks each to prepare for them. I enjoyed it even if it didn't look like I did. That was because when they handed out the faces I was born with this one. It was [and he turned to one of his leading critics] 100 times more enjoyable than reading your column."

Wilkinson, who is regarded as being firmly wedded to 4-4-2, but has the young England sides playing a flexible 4-3-3, said he was undecided as to what system he will play. Injuries, especially those to Gary Neville and Le Saux, may force him into the 3-5-2 which the players dislike but, paradoxically, appear more comfortable in.

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