Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Man with the Golden Grin

Out of the fire, for now, and into the glare of the cameras, Steve McClaren must be feeling like a man who's lost VD and discovered a lotion that makes him irresistibly attractive (and my, what a powerful unguent that would have to be).

Although it's fair to say injuries played their part in the renaissance enacted on Wembley's immaculate surface, the coach must be chuffed to bits with the way things panned out. Recalling Emile Heskey, who hasn't exactly set the world alight at Wigan, was a bold move, but the link play of old between him and Owen was soon justifying McClaren's decision. Perhaps it was the familiarity of the partnership, as Owen put in two vintage goal-scoring displays - pleasing for Newcastle fans as much as for those of England.

With Frank Lampard and Owen Hargreaves' enforced absences McClaren's charmed week led him to stumble upon another perfect match - albeit one with a lot less history. Gerrard and Barry can never have occupied the centre of England's midfield together before, but the way they dovetailed was fuel for the fire of those who claim Lampard can no longer be accommodated as first choice (myself included). Barry's strength and composure on the ball enabled him to break down play, keep possession and then link with the attack; and while Gerrard was quiet by his own high standards, he clearly enjoyed the freedom given him further up the pitch.

Whether Barry or Heskey will able to retain their places once Hargreaves and Rooney have returned from injury remains to be seen. Barry certainly has the stronger case, and if the rise of the Villains propagated under Martin O'Neil continues, then he seems only likely to garner more plaudits. Heskey is surely a little too one-paced to trouble the likely opposition at Euro 2008 (presuming we finish the job and qualify), and his goal-scoring is unlikely to ever reach 'prolific'. But for now, McClaren seems to have found a couple of spark plugs to light his way out of the darkness.

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