Young steps off bench to deliver cutting edge

After half-time boos Capello reverses mysterious decision to omit Villa man
  • @MrMarkFleming

Fabio Capello's decision to call Ashley Young off the bench looked like a moment of inspiration when the Aston Villa winger scored a much-needed equaliser within six minutes of his introduction.

England had been booed off the pitch at half-time by an impatient crowd, many thousands of whom were made to miss the first 20 minutes of the match due to overcrowded turnstiles.

The puzzle was why Young had been left out of the starting XI in the first place. With Wayne Rooney suspended, and off getting a hair transplant at a Harley Street specialist, Capello took the surprising decision to leave out Young as well, despite the Villa man's recent metamorphosis into a player of genuine international quality.

In the absence of Rooney, the injured Jermain Defoe and Andy Carroll, who has a persistent knee complaint, Capello chose a three-man attack of Darren Bent, James Milner and Theo Walcott, a front three that was last used in the 2-1 victory over Denmark in February, three games ago.

Young had impressed in recent games against Denmark, Wales and Ghana, but England's most improved player of the past three months found himself on the bench for the visit of Switzerland.

The decision was clearly the wrong one. England looked bereft of ideas in the first 45 minutes, with Walcott and Milner peripheral figures unwilling to move from their respective flanks. Bent became increasingly isolated and when the Swiss defence pushed up to squeeze the space, England were soon resorting to hopeful long balls over the top.

Capello's selection of Walcott and Milner for the wide positions proved once again that the England manageris inherently cautious. Both players will do their share of running, but they lack the cutting edge that Young has shown in recent internationals.

Milner was full of bustling endeavour, although at times his exuberance in his direct contest with the Swiss right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner was deemed too physicalby referee Damir Skomina. Milner was presented with England's best chance of an uncertain opening when he rose at the far post to meet Scott Parker's cross but could not beat the Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio.

On the opposite wing Walcott is a far more delicate player, relying almost exclusively on his ability to run fast to take him past a defender. At times he found himself outmuscled by the Swiss defence, but he kept at his job, and rarely spurned the chance to run at his opposite number. Walcott's best moment was perhaps a run at the centre of Switzerland's back four, and a pass to Young, who put his attempt on goal over the crossbar.

Young came off the bench at halftime to replace Lampard, and immediately made an impact, releasing Walcott for a run on goal that was blocked by Johan Djourou. He was deployed in a nominally central role behind Bent, although he had licence to roam wherever he liked. The Swiss defenders had trouble coping with his movement and six minutes after his introduction he scored England's equaliser, a crisp finish from 18 yards after Leighton Baines had cushioned the ball with his chest.

Young, who turns 26 in July, has made quite a name for himself with his recent performances for England, and seems likely to leave Aston Villa this summer. Manchester United and Liverpool are competing for his signature, and the difference he made to England's display yesterday will only have given his agent further bargaining strength.

Young also presented England with a couple of chances to win the game, for his Villa team-mate Bent. Young slipped the ball to forward to Bent, who could only shoot at goalkeeper Benaglio's legs. Young then fired in a low shot that Benaglio could not hold, presenting Bent with an open goal from 12 yards. The former Tottenham and Sunderland striker planted the ball over the bar.

The performances of Young, and the emergence of Jack Wilshere as a midfielder of the highest class, are the two main causes of optimism for England a year on from the World Cup debacle.

England missed Rooney, and Capello will be relieved to see the Manchester United striker, new hair and all, back in the side for the next qualifiers against Bulgaria and Wales in September. He will also surely not make the same mistake of ignoring Young, who was voted man of the match despite having played only half of it.