England manager Steve McClaren has not had the easiest ride in his year in charge but two 3-0 wins in the first competitive games at the new Wembley have transformed his fortunes.
The defeat of Israel on Saturday was followed up by a similarly comprehensive victory against Russia last night, and instead of standing fourth in UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifying Group E, England are now ahead of both their visitors this week and trail only Croatia with three games left.
McClaren, who was without Gary Neville, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, Owen Hargreaves and David Beckham, reaped the rewards for imaginative selections in using Gareth Barry in midfield and the recalled Emile Heskey alongside the rejuvenated Michael Owen. McClaren said: "They were both great wins but it was also about the performances and the way we did it. I think we blew the two teams away. I am delighted with the players' performances and their attitude. The squad has knuckled down and when it was time to deliver, we did. We should not be afraid of anybody."
Owen scored against Israel and twice more last night to take his England goal tally to 40, nine short of Sir Bobby Charlton’s record. "I never wrote him off, I always knew he was going to be important for us," McClaren said, while the Newcastle United FC striker added: "It has been a great few days. Two massive, important games - and we performed when it mattered." Russia coach Guus Hiddink will hope for better when England visit Moscow next month. "England are now ahead, but the decision is not yet made." he said. "We have got them in Moscow in October and they have got to face Croatia as well, but it's tight. It will be decided at the end, not in September.”
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