WALKER COMES TO ENGLAND'S RESCUE
By Benji Romaner
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
The Leicester City goalkeeper joined the squad in Newcastle preparing for the game after Nigel Martyn was forced to withdraw through injury. Walker has yet to make a first-team appearance for the Foxes since his £2.5 million move in July after being suspended for the club's first two matches of the new Premiership campaign.
However England goalkeeping coach Ray Clemence is fully aware of Walker's capabilities after working closely with the 29-year-old at Tottenham, and no doubt Clemence had a major say in Walker's surprise call-up.
Opta Index, the official player performance statisticians, have monitored Walker's performances between the posts in the Premiership during the last couple of seasons and compared them to other goalkeepers vying for a place in the resurgent England party.
Although he made only four Premiership appearances last season, Walker saved an excellent 82% of the shots that he faced - better than any other England 'keeper. For example David Seaman could only prevent 68% of efforts from crossing the line while Richard Wright had a slightly better rate than his new Arsenal team-mate with a 71% rate.
Furthermore he conceded just 0.60 goals per game, which is fewer on average than Eriksson's other options in goal. In addition he commanded his box with more authority than Wright as he caught every single cross compared to his younger rival who dropped seven high balls.
However critics of Walker could argue that he has only been called up due to both David James and Leeds youngster Paul Robinson both being unavailable through injury.
Walker had to leave Tottenham in the summer after losing his place to Scotland international Neil Sullivan. The only time he got a chance was when the former Wimbledon goalkeeper was suspended. But even after keeping two clean sheets in successive matches against Southampton and West Ham in January, he was subsequently dropped by George Graham for the following game against Charlton when Sullivan was available for selection.
And if Opta were to combine Walker's stats from his last full season in the Premiership, 1999-2000 and combine them with last season's totals they would not appear as favourable for the Watford-born 'keeper.
While he may have been superior to Seaman's percentages, Walker's total of a 71% saves-to-shots ratio combined over the past two seasons is less impressive than Nigel Martyn's and even David James had a 74% rate. Walker, whose father kept goal for Wales, also conceded an average of 1.23 goals per game, more than any of his rivals for an England spot.
While the Foxes' man is unlikely to see any action at St James' Park on Wednesday night this inclusion in the squad will no doubt build up Walker's self-esteem after mixed fortunes over the past year. He will then return to Leicester looking to claim the number one spot from Tim Flowers for the crunch game at home to Ipswich on Saturday.