Thursday, October 13, 2005

Fright night

For once, fortune smiled on us.

England's qualification for the World Cup Finals having been guaranteed on Saturday, last night's match against Poland was essentially meaningless - which meant the stage was set for captain-for-the-night Michael Owen to do himself some damage and leave us without our most potent goal threat just when we need to continue our recent upturn in results.

Mercifully, though, when Owen left the Old Trafford pitch with six minutes to go it was not due to injury. Owen had once again underlined his worth to the national side, cleverly diverting Joe Cole's shot into the net just before half-time, and then crossing perfectly for Frank Lampard to volley home the winner.

I will readily confess that I'd never have played Ledley King in the defensive midfield role Eriksson asked him to occupy last night, but he was very impressive, breaking up attacks and allowing Lampard to play his more natural offensive game. After the recent dismal displays, it was an encouraging victory, the margin of which would have been greater had we taken more of our chances and had Luke Young not fallen asleep in first-half stoppage time and allowed the Poles to equalise.

Good news from elsewhere, too. It's a shame for Shay Given that the Republic of Ireland's 0-0 draw with Switzerland meant they wouldn't be making an appearance in Germany next summer, and that Saturday's heroics ultimately counted for nothing, but at least he too returns to St James's injury free.

In Paris, Jean-Alain Boumsong played the full 90 minutes and emerged unscathed as France thrashed Cyprus 4-0. Despite having not featured for us for some weeks through injury, Emre was pressed into service for his country, coming on for the second half of Turkey's vital qualifier away to Albania. Hopefully he'll be fit enough to make the bench for Saturday's game at Wigan - Souness will no doubt be more cautious about rushing him back after what happened last time. Just Solano, Luque and Dyer to get back now for our first choice midfield...

One other performance on the international stage deserving of a mention. Steven Taylor seems to becoming something of a goal machine for the England U21s - he scored a couple of games back, and then notched two more in his side's 4-1 defeat of Poland U21s on Tuesday. A more useful option than Ameobi if either Shearer or Owen are missing?


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