Under Fabio Capello previous rules of engagement have been restored. His call-up of Ledley King, with a view to the Tottenham defender replacing John Terry, or possibly Rio Ferdinand, in Wednesday's World Cup qualifier against Ukraine was confirmation that nobody's place in the side is safe. The England management team are thus content that there will be no phantom injuries keeping players from boarding the eight-hour flight to Kazakhstan in June, or prior to the subsequent Wembley game against Andorra.
Since the Champions League final and FA Cup final precede the internationals it is possible that some players will genuinely be injured, but Capello said yesterday he intends to "select the best ones who are fit at that moment", and the word is that he expects them to appear.
Steven Gerrard intends to be among them, though the midfielder's situation could be complicated by a trial on a charge of affray following an incident in Southport in December. Gerrard will today return to court for a plea and case management hearing.
Assuming that does not interfere with his football, Gerrard said that as far as he was concerned his season extended to the Andorra match on 10 June. "I do because anything less than maximum points [from the two fixtures] is no good," he said. "It would be an absolute disaster to go away in the summer thinking about dropping points against teams we should be getting three from and it's important we take the maximum."
Capello indicated that David Beckham could play a significant part in June as he would be "fresh", having had a winter break before joining Milan. "David is in very good form," he said. "He was Milan's best player in his last game for them and whenever he enters the pitch for us he plays well. He did not play until January and for that reason he is fresh."
While admitting England could have, and should have, played better in the 2-1 win on Wednesday, Capello was pleased with their response to being pegged back by Andrei Shevchenko's goal late on. "I watched the character of the team," he said. "When you can't play well, or play your style, the character and passion is important. You cannot always win by playing well. Sometimes you can win like this."
English players pride themselves on their character but, admitted Frank Lampard, "maybe you might not have seen that a couple of years ago. Over a period of time we weren't performing for our country as a group, we didn't get the right results, and we became less confident when we pulled on an England shirt. But I think there's a lot more confidence about the team now."
"Eighteen months ago this side might have gone into its shell when conceding an equaliser and played out the final 20 minutes in fear," concurred Gerrard, "but we got a positive reaction to their goal."
Shevchenko was certain England would come first in Group Six. "It is just about who will finish second now," he said.
Months since England kept a home clean sheet in a competitive match.