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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Nov 13, 2006

Lennon joins lengthy England injury list

Steve McClaren's hopes of solving the mystery of England's 'enigmatic' midfield have been wrecked by Aaron Lennon's knee injury.

Of the eight withdrawals from McClaren's original 28-man squad for Wednesday's friendly with Holland in Amsterdam, Lennon's departure will be felt most keenly.

Having returned to top form following the knee injury which forced him to miss last month's disastrous double-header with Macedonia and Croatia, the Tottenham man's pace had been pinpointed by McClaren as a major weapon in England's effort to regain public confidence.

With McClaren also admitting he is still searching for the right midfield combination, a first international start for the 19-year-old was seen as a prelude to Lennon becoming a fixture in the side.

Instead, Lennon returned to Tottenham for treatment on an injury he hopes will not have flared up again, leaving McClaren still searching for the solution to a problem which has existed for some time.

'The (team's) blend and balance has always been, for me, the enigma and may continue to be, especially in that midfield area,' McClaren said.

'It is something where we are trying things and hoping to resolve.'

Instead of giving Lennon his head, the England coach is faced with the unpalatable prospect of raking back over past failings in an effort to find an effective engine room.

For, with Scott Parker, Jermaine Jenas and Stewart Downing also missing, McClaren must either name Steven Gerrard on the right-hand side, as he did for his first four matches in charge, or opt to push the Liverpool man back into his favoured central role alongside Frank Lampard, and hand Shaun Wright-Phillips his first start since the win over Poland 13 months ago.

Neither situation is entirely straightforward.

Gerrard has certainly let club boss Rafael Benitez know of his distaste for operating on the right flank and his frequent forays into central positions could expose Gary Neville's replacement at full-back, which could yet be 18-year-old rookie Micah Richards.

Yet if Gerrard plays alongside Lampard, McClaren would be re-establishing a partnership that has rarely looked effective at international level, as well as placing his trust in Wright-Phillips, who has started just twice for Chelsea this season.

As recently as Friday, while hailing Wright-Phillips' attributes, McClaren recognised his lack of opportunities at Stamford Bridge was a concern.

'Players need to play to get form and momentum,' he said.

'I speak to Jose Mourinho quite often. I know he wants to give Shaun more games but obviously, he has other priorities.'

McClaren cannot have envisaged being faced with such a dilemma when he named his massive 28-man squad three days ago.

Yet, such has been the rate of withdrawals, Arsenal academy product Matthew Connolly was conscripted to make up the numbers as the Liverpool and Tottenham stars involved in high-octane Premiership duty yesterday were given a rest, leaving just 16 outfield players on the training field.

McClaren's blanket selection policy at least meant that despite suffering such heavy losses, he only had to draft Kieran Richardson into his squad, although the out-of-form Manchester United man can expect to be on the bench at best as England look to record their first win over Holland in the Dutch capital since 1969.

However, if Gerrard is asked to play on the right and Michael Carrick retains his place, McClaren could end up fielding eight of the same starting line-up from the Croatia debacle.

It is hardly the revolution that might have been expected after such a sorry performance although at least in Richards, the England coach has indicated his willingness to look to the future.

If Richards plays, he will oust Rio Ferdinand as the youngest defender in England history.

And, while it may be a source of disappointment to some the Manchester City man was the only player elevated to senior status from the youngsters who swept England into next summer's European Under-21 Championships, McClaren believes there are a few others who are certainties to follow.

'I am very excited by some of the young lads coming through from the under-21s,' said McClaren.

'You have to be careful about which games and get-togethers you bring them in for. It is all about timing.

'But I am looking forward to the emergence of lads like Leighton Baines, Gabriel Agbonlahor, who has really impressed me, and David Nugent.

'I am also looking forward to seeing Theo Walcott get more games and having the chance to prove what a good player he is.

'With those lads, it is all about potential. My job is about qualifying for the European Championships. That is what I am looking towards when I pick a squad.'