Carson set for England nod ahead of Robbo?
Despite refusing to publicly name his side for the make-or-break Euro 2008 qualifier with Croatia tomorrow, England coach Steve McClaren seems set to take the biggest gamble of his career by naming Scott Carson in goal.
Carson, currently on loan at Aston Villa from Liverpool, only made his international debut in Friday's friendly against Austria in Vienna.
While the 22-year-old kept a clean sheet, he was hardly tested by a poor Austrian side and the feeling had been that Paul Robinson would return for tomorrow's Wembley encounter, when England require a point to seal their passage into next summer's finals.
However, it now looks likely Carson will get the nod.
McClaren significantly failed to back Robinson in the build-up to England's final Group E game, something he has done repeatedly in the past during the Tottenham goalkeeper's error-prone international career.
Veteran David James is also in the England squad - but it is Carson who seems to have won McClaren's favour.
Although the Whitehaven-born player has appeared for Liverpool in European action against Juventus, kept a clean sheet on his Premier League debut for Leeds as a teenager at Old Trafford and was part of the Charlton squad which spent last season unsuccessfully battling for their top-flight lives, tomorrow's game would represent by far the most high profile and intense of Carson's short career.
In addition, McClaren, who faces the sack if England do not reach Austria and Switzerland, has opted against handing David Beckham a starting berth.
Instead, the indications are Shaun Wright-Phillips will remain on the right flank, where he has excelled in Beckham's absence since the former captain was ruled out in August with an ankle injury.
In a triple whammy of surprises, it seems Aston Villa's Gareth Barry will be asked to screen the England defence in a holding role within a five-man midfield.
Owen Hargreaves was thought likely to be given the job after being recalled from Manchester United earlier this week.
But Barry - another impressive performer during England's largely successful September and October programme, with the exception of the 10-minute disaster in Russia - appears to have done enough for McClaren to keep faith with him.
McClaren informed his players of the starting line-up earlier today although he insisted it was not for public consumption.
He said: 'I know my team and I have done since the weekend - but I am not going to reveal it and I am not giving any clues.'
McClaren will invite John Terry into the dressing room to deliver a pre-match rallying call.
Along with Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Michael Owen, Terry will miss out tomorrow despite being involved in this morning's training session.
But McClaren feels the presence of players who have played such a crucial role in England's qualifying campaign to date is essential.
He explained: 'It has been a long journey and it has been a hard journey.
'We started together and we want to finish together, which is why we will have John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney together with us tomorrow.'
So often the subject of ridicule during his rollercoaster 17-game reign, there have been times even McClaren cannot have expected to reach this point.
In Croatia, against Andorra and only last month in Russia, he appeared to be teetering on the brink of dismissal.
Yet, somehow, McClaren and his team have survived. And now he can feel a groundswell of goodwill building as he strives for the minimum target of qualification.
He added: 'Any international manager, especially the England manager, expects to get stick. It is part of the job.
'But, as I have travelled up and down the country, the public have wished me well and people within the game have also been very supportive and that is the most important thing for me.
'The opinions I respect are the ones from people who have been there and done it. Those who know me. Those who have crossed the white line and know what it is like. Those who know what it takes to manage teams at this level.'