Milner can be England's main midfield man

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England are short enough of true quality, so the news that Frank Lampard will now miss the European Championships is a severe blow to Roy Hodgson's hopes of success in Poland and Ukraine this summer.

Having already been hit badly in the centre with the loss of Manchester City midfielder Gareth Barry to an abdominal strain, the Chelsea ace was added to the injury list when he tweaked a thigh muscle chasing a loose ball in training at London Colney on Wednesday.

"It's a huge blow for the team, especially coming after the loss of another senior player in Gareth Barry," said Hodgson of Lampard's injury. "The fact that the doctor cannot guarantee Frank could take part in any of the group matches means we have to replace him in the central midfield area.

"Apart from it being a huge blow to me and the team, I'm especially disappointed for Frank himself. He has been in very good form and was looking forward to the tournament.

"He made a huge contribution towards us qualifying for the Euros so it is cruel to be forced out through injury just before the tournament."

Jordan Henderson has been promoted from the standby list to replace Lampard, but the Liverpool midfielder's poor club form and distinct lack of international experience leaves him facing a daunting task, with enormous boots to fill.

And, with concerns over the full fitness of Scott Parker remaining - the typically energetic and bustling 31-year-old looked a shadow of his former self in last weekend's friendly in Oslo - Hodgson may have to look elsewhere for a deep-lying partner for Steven Gerrard in front of the England defence.

Step forward, James Milner. The City star is often overlooked when talking about the national team's key players. Match-winner, maybe not. But, his importance to the squad as a whole mustn't be underestimated. At 26, the utility man is coming into the prime of his career, and his ability to play in numerous positions is invaluable, particularly in a squad that is entering a major tournament ravaged by injury.

Milner can play on either flank, in a more central midfield role, or even as a makeshift right-back - two positions that England are particularly light, considering Glen Johnson's recent toe infection. He will surely be the next in line to replace Parker should he fail to recover in time for the first group game against France on June 11.

Laurent Blanc's side will present the Three Lions the toughest test of the three group stage opponents, with Les Bleus' midfield perhaps the strongest area of their team, with players such as Yohan Cabaye and Samir Nasri posing a serious threat.

England were outshone, outclassed, and outmanoeuvred in the middle of the park the last time they met France at Wembley two years ago, and Hodgson will be determined to avoid a repeat, such is the importance of getting off to a good start in any major competition. If Parker is struggling, then Milner must start, if only to counteract the midfield quality of the French.

His dynamic displays in the England engine room can be the lifeblood for which the more creative players feed off, as he industriously breaks up play and moves the ball forward from defence to attack. It's a role that is often under-appreciated, but increasingly important, particularly on the international stage.

Parker will likely start alongside Gerrard against Belgium at Wembley tomorrow evening, in what will be a far more demanding friendly test than the 55 minutes the Tottenham midfielder managed against Norway at the Ullevaal Stadion. In fact, it will be a much more challenging test for all the players, as Hodgson looks to start with what he perceives as his strongest line-up.

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