For an international footballer on the fringes of the national side ahead of a major tournament, many stars need to align at just the right time if they are to make the cut for squad selection.
A fine example of such a scenario is the late charge that Newcastle United winger Andros Townsend has been making towards Roy Hodgson’s England squad for Euro 2016.
Not long ago he was completely out of favour at his beloved Tottenham Hotspur. Now not only is he putting in superb performances for Rafa Benitez’s doomed side but lady luck is shining on his claim for a spot on the journey across the English Channel after Danny Welbeck was ruled out of the Championships following yet another serious knee injury.
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One of the recent hallmarks of Hodgson’s England has been, believe it or not, pace and bravery in the final third, as perfectly exhibited in that thrilling victory against Germany in Berlin. Townsend has shown both of those qualities in abundance in the last couple of months in a struggling Newcastle side whose fate was confirmed after Sunderland's victory over Everton.
His ability to play on both flanks, run at speed with the ball and willingness to work back to support his side defensively have been even more evident in recent weeks. As has both his dead ball prowess and eye for a goal – the match-winning free kick against Crystal Palace being the most obvious example. He is a real threat cutting in onto his left foot from the right wing. If England are to stick to the expansive play that has increased pre-tournament optimism amongst fans, then Townsend should be a shoo-in.
What has often worked against Townsend is that he is perceived as a Hodgson favourite. Indeed, whilst at Tottenham, he was frequently selected when others in his position were in better form and getting far more game time.
Presently that couldn't be farther from the case. Townsend has developed into Newcastle’s go-to man in their fight for survival. The 24-year-old has been in terrific form since his January move and is brimming with confidence despite his side’s plight. He has four goals in 11 starts – not bad for a wide player. Almost every opportunity Newcastle create comes through Townsend, a man thriving under a responsibility in the first-team never made available to him at Tottenham.
Another element working in his favour is the lack of obvious alternatives. Apart from Raheem Sterling, how many natural wide players do England have? Arsenal’s Theo Walcott has had an uninspiring campaign with limited game time – he has created fewer chances than Townsend despite making twice as many appearances.
His teammate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is out injured, Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard is currently far too inexperienced at international level and other squad certainties who could feature on the flanks, such as Adam Lallana or even Jamie Vardy, are not natural wingers like Townsend. England need width, Townsend offers it.
Finally, in a youthful squad Townsend's experience at international level may be significant, even if he has only secured 10 caps. Anyone else remember his fine efforts that helped inspire England to World Cup 2014 qualification, especially the man of the match performance against Montenegro at Wembley?
Meanwhile, his three international goals actually put him ahead of Sterling, Jack Wilshere and Ross Barkley. Townsend has shown he can deliver for his country. It was his long-range screamer after coming on as a substitute that rescued a draw last October in the friendly against Italy.
What's more, he will feel he has a point to prove after missing out on the last World Cup. The fact that he spent last summer undergoing a personal fitness camp aimed at getting him in the best possible shape to compete for an England place tells you everything about his ambition to succeed for his country.
Injuries have opened a previously closed window of opportunity for Andros Townsend. Nevertheless, the domestic form and confidence he has shown and his suitability for this England side, suggest that such an international lifeline was no longer even necessary.
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