In his weekly series Tom Exelby continues to assess the club form of the numerous hopefuls looking to secure a seat for the plane bound for the Ukraine this summer.
“Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.” Not the words of Joey Barton but the words of some bloke called Confucius. Whoever he is I’m sure he will agree that England’s pre-Euro 2012 preparation is ticking over quite nicely. This week Stewert Downing was outstanding, Theo Walcott scored twice and England’s probable tournament captain raised aloft a trophy after a penalty shoot-out.
The weekend was a good one for footballers who are serenaded with “You Fat Bastard” as Grant Holt produced a Holt from the blue (apologies) against United and Frank Lampard dropped by club and country only last week, returned to the Chelsea midfield with a performance that was a middle fingered salute to his doubters. Wayne Rooney, despite not playing, also enhanced his reputation as United appeared impotent without his creative guile.
Over at the Carling Cup Final PLANE hopefuls Glen Johnson, Stewert Downing and Steven Gerrard all took good penalties. Gerrard was denied by Tom Heaton who despite being Cardiff City’s second choice keeper may be worth a look especially given the dearth of goalkeeping talent and his obvious penalty saving prowess. It was however Downing who stood out at Wembley, as he persistently made life difficult for Kevin McNaughton who had grey hair by the end of the game. Downing’s North East compatriots Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson had afternoons to forget; the two made a combined impact of nil on a game against (admittedly good) Championship opposition.
Stuart Pearce wildcard Frazier Campbell didn’t even start for Sunderland as they were battered by West Brom, who were kept ticking by the outstanding Darlington born Scottish international James Morrison. Oh what could have been James. Forgotten man Matt Jarvis who received his England cap less than a year ago scored for Wolves as they battled back against Newcastle United. And Darren Bent was injured at the DW stadium in a game described by a friend of mine in attendance as “absolutely fucking abysmal”. Bent’s injury is already being presented by sections of the media as a striker crisis but with Peter Crouch, Grant Holt and Pavel Pogrebnyak (not sure if he is English) all amongst the goals there is no cause for alarm just yet.
Despite the thrilling contribution of Theo Walcott at the Emirates it was in the North London derby that a few PLANE hopefuls hit a spot of turbulence. Not least Harry Redknapp who slumped his melting face into an even sadder looking frown as Tottenham were destroyed. There were uncharacteristically useless performances from Ledley King, Kyle Walker and Scott Parker, the latter seeing red after his frustration bubbled over. King and Walker will no doubt recover from a brief blip in form and they will have to as elsewhere Englands defenders performed well. Ryan Shawcross, Gary Cahill, Ashley Cole and Joleon Lescott all helped their respective teams to a clean sheet as did Matthew Upson who threw in a goal for good measure. It was another quiet afternoon for Englands number one Joe Hart. Despite having almost nothing to do Hart must be commended, like a 6 year old reformed bed wetter he just continues to produce clean sheets, Roberto Mancini must be so proud.
To round off this week I must mention ginger maestro Paul Scholes who whilst seemingly uninterested in a seat on the plane may be playing his way into thousands of begging letters from desperate England fans. Playing with his head on a swivel at Carrow Road he kept United calm as they waited for their inevitable last minute winner. Admittedly he doesn’t move an awful lot anymore but I wonder how likely it is that Michael Carrick or Scott Parker will pop up in the opposition box with a vital header?