Stone takes his chance

Mike Rowbottom sees two players blossom on the international stage
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The Independent Online
MIKE ROWBOTTOM

The goal with which Steve Stone marked his first England start last night came via his good - rather than his "gammy" - leg.

As he drove the ball home right-footed - following a knock-back by another player with things to prove, Les Ferdinand - the wisdom of his decision to risk inflaming the left knee which has troubled him all season was borne out gloriously.

Any player who has recovered his career after breaking his leg three times will treat triumph and disaster as twin imposters. But with his England career flourishing, and his club side, Nottingham Forest, the only British survivor in European competition this season, he is entitled to relish his current fortune.

It was not the Forest winger's first inspirational intervention of the evening, although the earlier efforts occurred far closer to the England goal, taking the form of decisive tackles that persistently halted the Portuguese forward flow. After one full appearance, and two walk-on parts, Stone is set fair to earn a similar place in the public's heart to that other bald, bullish midfielder Nobby Stiles.

He drew fulsome praise from Terry Venables, the England coach, afterwards. "He's got all the things you're after. What I like about him is that he tries to pass the ball before he thinks about dribbling. Everything in the right order. I remember Bobby Charlton saying to me that it is a slog at national level. It's not just about showing how clever you are, although if you can do that too, then fine."

Stone independently echoed his manager's comments after the game. "Things are getting better and better for me, but I just try to work hard," he said. "That's always been my attitude to things. My manager at Forest, Frank Clark, has been on to me about improving my crossing and getting more goals, and I think I've done that. That's why I've got to this level."

But, he was careful to add, he did not necessarily expect to start the next England game. And off he strolled, in his smart suit, carrying his man of the match award of a magnum of champagne and his kit in a black dustbin liner.

When the champagne was presented to him, the official photographer called out: "You know what to do, don't you?" After a moment's hesitation, Stone responded with the required smile, while brandishing his prize. You get the feeling he may become better practised over the next few years.

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