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By ESPN Staff

Neville backs team-mate AJ to shine for England

Phil Neville believes England can reap the rewards of Everton's positive start to the Premiership season.

Neville and Goodison team-mate Andrew Johnson are in Steve McClaren's squad for Saturday's European Championship qualifying match against Andorra at Old Trafford.

Everton are fourth in the table after winning two and drawing one of their first three games - with Neville and two-goal Johnson impressing.

And Neville believes the duo can make an impact on Saturday, if they are given their chance.

He explained at a press conference televised by Sky Sports News: 'Everton have had a great start to the season and it helps you get international honours when your team are doing well.

'Andy has probably been our best player this season - he's settled in really well and it's taken me by surprsie how well he's done.

'He's razor-sharp and has pace in abundance. If he's picked, there will be no more in-form striker in the squad than Andy Johnson.'

Neville is impressed with the new regime under McClaren, continuing: 'I think it's started really well - there's an air of optimism around the place.

'You've got to keep a little bit of a low profile and see how it goes - but we've started well.

'The Greece result was great and the build-up to that game was fantastic too.

'We met last night and had a night out and a good training session today.

'A lot have worked with Steve McClaren for a number of years but I had good time with him at Manchester United - and Terry Venables gave me my England debut.

'It's ironic that the people who had a big influence on me are now running the England team.

'Steve has seen a lot of me over years so I knew he knew what I could offer to this team.

'At this level when a new manager comes in you never know - but luckily for me he's added me to squad.'

Neville believes his best chance of a starting berth could be a right-back, where he would be standing in for older brother Gary.

He told Sky Sports News: 'There is a chance there. Maybe in the last squad I was picked as a midfielder but Michael Carrick is now back in the squad, and with Gary out there are only two possible right-backs on the sheet (Luke Young being the other).

'There are two massive matches coming up and when you get the jersey the hardest part is keeping hold of it.'

Asked whether England could expect an easy ride against Andorra, ranked 132nd in the world, Neville added: 'You have to remember what happened in Northern Ireland last year, we went over there and on paper we were expected to be easy winners.

Andorra will come to Old Trafford and enjoy themselves, but if we play like we did against Greece we can come out comfortable winners.

'If we can produce anything like that on Saturday we'll have no worries.'

Neville insists there is a strong mood of optimism in the squad following the 4-0 friendly win over Greece, which came on the back of the disappointing World Cup campaign in Germany.

'A few players have said there was too much hype before the World Cup, now we're going to do our talking on the field,' the Everton midfielder said.

'We're in a new era and the optimism in the camp is as good as it's been in the 10 years I've been in the squad.

'There was massive disappointment (at the World Cup exit) but we all take responsibility for that. We don't feel any extra relief because the manager (Sven-Goran Eriksson) has gone, but we feel we let him down at times and we want to put that right.

'We've learned our lesson and to say we will win Euro 2008 would be silly after the World Cup. We're a team that's young and building, and if we carry on the way we played against Greece we'll do very well.'

Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard is also optimistic, adding: 'It was important we started well against Greece and we did that - now we need to take that form into the next two games.

'I thought we destroyed Greece in the first half and I enjoyed the role - shackles off, getting into the box and making forward runs, it's the job I've had for my club for a long time.

'But I agree with people who say there are no easy games at this level - you have got to show respect to the opposition beforehand.

'Andorra is a potential banana skin but we need to make sure we put in a decent performance and win the game comfortably.'

The Liverpool skipper feels England owe it to the fans to try to qualify in style.

Gerrard told Sky Sports News: 'In the past some of the players have tried to do that but the games have been really difficult.

'The most important thing is to qualify but I think the fans have been frustrated with the performances and we want to try to win with style, play with freedom and relax.'

Gerrard hailed the all-round contribution of Reds team-mate Peter Crouch, who has scored eight goals in his last eight internationals.

'Peter's form on the international stage has been fantastic and he is making it very difficult for the manager to leave him out.

'He has had his criticism but he is proving people wrong. It's a fantastic record and hopefully he can continue that.

'As a player and a team-mate you respect the other things he does, he's good to link up with, and he has good feet for a big man.'

Gerrard revealed the squad had been on a team-bonding trip to a comedy club on Tuesday night, and said: 'It got us giggling and got us together, the manager wants to create a club atmosphere around the place.'

Injuries permitting, Gerrard will hit the half-century of international caps if he plays on Saturday and against Macedonia next Wednesday.

He continued: 'I should have passed 50 caps a long time ago but injuries held me back - but I'm excited at getting to 50.

'All the players are still hurting from the World Cup and we've got to use that experience to drive us on in the future.

'It's a new set-up and there are fresh faces in the coaching staff - I'm really looking forward to the future with Steve McClaren in charge.

'He has told me he would like me to play in different roles but he wants me to play a similar role to the one for my club, which suits me.'

The 26-year-old acknowledged his appearance on the right of a diamond formation has helped silence the critics who argued he and Frank Lampard could not play together for England.

Gerrard added: 'The formation against Greece may have made certain people happy - but this squad has a lot of options.

'There is always going to be a great amount of pressure on this team because of the quality of players in the squad - and the players have got to make it happen.'