England coach McClaren calls for more of the same
Steve McClaren has pointed to England's best performance of his difficult time in charge and warned his players not to drop below those standards in future.
Goals from Shaun Wright-Phillips, Michael Owen and Micah Richards guided the Three Lions to a 3-0 romp over Israel at Wembley which has significantly increased their chances of reaching Euro 2008 next summer.
A similar performance against Russia at the same venue on Wednesday would leave England tantalisingly close to booking their place at the finals in Austria and Switzerland.
But McClaren realises his team are yet to prove they are capable of maintaining such a high level of performance on a consistent basis. And he has left them in no doubt once is not enough.
'Yes, it is absolutely right. That performance sets the bar. It is not just the score; I would take taken one-nil. It is the fact that we had a lot of injuries, yet players have stepped in and done the job.
'Given the pressure beforehand and the fact it was our most important game so far, one we had to win, then yes, it probably was my best result as coach.
'And all of a sudden, we have competition for places, which has to be healthy.'
Under the circumstances, with Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Frank Lampard and Owen Hargreaves among the key men to miss out, McClaren could hardly have expected any more from his team.
They dominated from start to finish and, in Wright-Phillips, Emile Heskey and Gareth Barry boasted a trio who carried England's challenge despite rarely having had the opportunity to operate regularly on the international stage.
All that may change now, with Heskey and Barry, three and an incredible seven years after their previous competitive starts for England, under serious consideration for Wednesday's equally crucial encounter even though more established alternatives in Peter Crouch and Hargreaves are available.
Wright-Phillips can be more certain of his place.
The little winger has spent so long in the wilderness following his £21million move to Chelsea two years ago.
But, first for club and now with his country, Wright-Phillips is showing signs of recapturing the form which made him an international in the first place during his time at Manchester City.
He may not have the crossing accuracy of Beckham but the 26-year-old Londoner offers a rare ability to run at defenders at pace and maintain his balance. As Israel found to their cost, it is a skill which cannot easily be contained.
'Shaun is a nightmare to defend against when he is playing like that,' said McClaren. 'He has pace and power and works so hard for the team. He is so strong too.
'There are times when it looks like he is going to lose the ball but then he fights to get it back.'
Wright-Phillips' goal, a well-taken first-time effort after he had sprung Israel's offside trap perfectly to reach Joe Cole's angled cross was what McClaren described as 'the icing on the cake'.
Take out Owen and Steven Gerrard and it is not abundantly clear who is going to score England's goals.
Now, an answer may be at hand. And, while McClaren felt his team could have been far more clinical yesterday, he declared himself satisfied with the outcome - providing England have left a few in reserve.
'The goal was a key thing for Shaun because, while we knew we would get crosses in, we wondered who would get the goals from midfield if Steven Gerrard did not get them,' said McClaren.
'In a sense we followed on from the Germany game last month because we created a lot of chances and did not score as many times as we might have done.
'Hopefully, we are saving a couple for Wednesday.'
Other than the booing which greeted David Bentley's entrance and the Blackburn man's every touch thereafter, a legacy of the debutant's decision to snub under-21 duty with England at this summer's European Championships, there was barely a negative for McClaren to reflect on.
However, in confirming a 'hope' that Hargreaves would recover from his thigh injury in time to be considered for the Russia clash, the England coach did reveal Lampard is unlikely to have progressed enough from a similar problem to come under consideration.
'From what we have seen, Frank is going to struggle,' he said.