Ashley Young leads the charge for England's credible contenders

The England friendly was reinvented as it ceased to be a wearisome occasion.

Ashley Young leads the charge for England's credible contenders Only a misanthrope could have left Wembley displeased by the draw with Ghana or gloomy about the days ahead. Fabio Capello must have been engrossed, too, since he got around to making a mere four of the half-dozen substitutions available to him. The manager was still in good humour after a cumbersome Joleon Lescott was turned by Asamoah Gyan, who then scored the equaliser in stoppage time.

Any disappointment would have been small among England fans, who appreciate there are normally better centre-backs than the substitute Lescott to be picked. They had been entertained and recognised the pride that sustained opponents who had been in action on Sunday against Congo in Brazzaville. It was England who could not quite complete a journey, one that had seemed to be leading to victory. Nonetheless, several players reached their personal objective by making Capello wonder if they are now credible candidates for even a full-strength line-up.

Ashley Young comes instantly to mind and not simply because a good showing for his country on Saturday has been followed by another. Although the matches came in quick succession, there was still time for him to come to terms with altered instructions. At the Millennium Stadium he had been on the right and crossed for Darren Bent to score the second goal in the win over Wales.

The impact was welcome then, but more of his repertoire was on display in the looser role he had against Ghana. Young was notionally on the left but at liberty to meander and have an effect in the centre. "Last year Ashley Young played left wing or sometimes right wing," said Capello. "This year he has changed position and improved a lot. Now he is a really, really important player because the movement between the lines is there."

Young's contribution ought to have been felt on the scoreboard, but having got himself into the goalmouth he sent a cross from Stewart Downing against the bar in the 24th minute. He and others did well enough to encourage debate over who should be reinstated when the footballers excused this match are once more available. Capello is not a romantic whose line-up reflects an idealised view of youth, but he will have to give thought to whether and how the old hands are to be brought back.

In the midfield trio of the 4-3-3 structure, one place already appears irrevocably to be the property of Jack Wilshere and another will belong to a defensively minded character such as Scott Parker or, as against Ghana, Gareth Barry. Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard could compete for the remaining spot, so long as Capello considers James Milner dispensable.

Injuries will arise and the manager, in any case, could turn to another system that is more accommodating, but modifying the plan to include midfielders in their 30s solely because of past service would be woolly-minded. Capello, however, is still alert to the value that a modicum of knowhow carries, especially if England are to give a reasonable account of themselves at a major tournament. The issue lies with the number and identity of any veterans.

Frank Lampard, 34 by the time of the Euro 2012 finals, found favour for the Wales match. The Chelsea midfielder might be able to adapt his game but it is less obvious that Steven Gerrard, 32 next year, will still be coming up with those feats of explosive individualism. Although Capello will do nothing rash, players in that age group must keep on offering proof that they are not fatally diminished.

England looked a careworn band at the 2010 World Cup and the manager has been straining for rejuvenation. He is thwarted on occasion and it is dismaying that Theo Walcott, who made his international debut in May 2006, has just 16 caps. As a 22-year-old, there is still some hope that he may achieve durability even if ankle trouble has sidelined him of late.

The national team crave explosive pace and there are few candidates who can supply it. This week Aaron Lennon had to withdraw from the squad. There were missed chances against Ghana, but the visitors were not exactly reduced to panic. In the circumstances, it was pleasing that Andy Carroll was still capable of notching his first England goal on the occasion of his second cap.

It is to his credit that he could do so with a sharp finish when he otherwise looked rusty and semi-fit. That strike heartened those who believe Carroll has precision to go with all the obvious power. "It will be difficult for me to pick 21 players for the next game," Capello said with satisfaction.

Over the course of the matches with Wales and Ghana 22 footballers got on to the field, with injury ruling out others. The manager rather likes to feel like a benefactor and there have been debuts for Danny Welbeck, on loan to Sunderland from Manchester United, and Matt Jarvis, the Wolves winger who was still with Gillingham in 2007, when he was 21.

Even so, there will be no applause for good intentions if the alterations lead to a line-up that follows its predecessors by delivering one more anti-climax. It was a good night at Wembley on Tuesday but there will have to be many more happy occasions before faith in Capello is restored entirely.

Powered by article was written by Kevin McCarra, for The Guardian on Thursday 31st March 2011 08.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

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