For the benefit of Mr Crouch

Last night England completed their World Cup qualifying campaign at home to Belarus. With a variety of players either suspended or injured, Fabio Capello was forced into testing out a possible Plan B. However, with qualification in the bag, this wasn’t really a problem, more an opportunity.

Lucky is the team that doesn’t suffer from suspensions or injuries at some point in a major tournament. This was the perfect chance to test out some players on the fringes. While in reality there was nothing to play for, for either side, it was good to see some new faces in a ‘competitive’ environment, and Capello must now have a much better idea of who might figure in any back-up plan.

A 3-0 victory, with so many regulars missing, is encouraging. As for the manner of the performance, it’s an age-old problem, but England players need to learn how to keep the ball. Especially in a spell before half-time, they failed. Belarus are a far more limited team, yet looked far happier playing the ball out from defence, and far less likely to waste possession with long, expectant balls. England’s possession issues might become a bigger problem against a better team.

One player did stake a strong claim last night. Peter Crouch scored two, to bring his tally to 18 goals in 35 international appearances – a great strike-rate for a second-string striker. Crouch definitely offers a tangible alternative option for Capello.

His mere presence is capable of creating confusion in an opposition’s defence, he is an obvious aerial threat and he has a knack for pinching goals. He adds another dimension to the England side, and I hope he gets a run-out in South Africa next summer. He could well make the difference as a substitute in a tight game, and can certainly make life easier against a ‘smaller’ nation in the group stages.

Meanwhile, I’ll gloss over David Beckham’s strange new beard and Steve Bruce’s even stranger decision to name him man of the match…