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Theo thrived in bench role, says Smith

Alan Smith - Alan Smith Posted 19th June 2009 view comments

It was a fantastic win against Spain and there were a lot of happy faces back at the England hotel afterwards.

Following an even first half when neither team played particularly well, we looked good after the break. I expected Spain to improve but they struggled, largely because of the way England defended and protected the back four. Fabrice Muamba did a great job in the holding role and was rightly praised by his manager afterwards.

Pearce: ball in his court

Pearce: ball in his court

When James Milner's penalty was saved I feared it wasn't going to be our night, but the injury to Gabby Agbonlahor helped in many ways. Fraizer Campbell imposed himself on the game and led the line really well after coming on as a substitute and he took his goal superbly.

We looked sharp in our passing in the second half and switched the ball around well so I felt we deserved the goal - and we hit them on the break for a second. The game was never in any doubt after that

Impact

Theo Walcott came on and did exactly what Stuart Pearce wanted him to do as an impact substitute to set up Milner's goal. I think the manager was justified in leaving him on the bench.

Theo responded brilliantly and I'm pleased for him. He was certainly looking much happier on Thursday night than he had 24 hours earlier.

Alan Smith
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I mentioned in my last column that Arsene Wenger wouldn't have been very pleased to see Walcott taken to Sweden if he wasn't going to play, but Pearce has go to do what he thinks is best for the team on any given night.

He made the right decision. The game had opened up after an hour, the Spain players were tiring and there was a little bit more space for Theo. Coming on as a substitute seemed to suit him and he was a great weapon.

He would obviously love to start but he knows himself that he has been struggling a little but lately. He has been substituted a couple of times - against Kazakhstan for the senior side and against Finland on Monday - which will have dented his pride and his confidence.

But he responded brilliantly and I'm pleased for him. He was certainly looking much happier on Thursday night than he had 24 hours earlier.

No pressure

Any game against Germany will be huge, but it is wonderful to go into Monday's clash with no pressure.

Having secured a semi-final spot, Stuart Pearce can try out a few things and give some experience to some of the squad players. That could be important further down the line.

He spoke in his press conference about not wanting to lose momentum so he needs to be careful. Germany need at least a point to qualify so they will be going full tilt and it would be damaging for us if they won by two or three goals.

I think many of Paerce's senior players will start, but he might tweak a few positions and give a couple of players a rest. The likes of Jack Rodwell and Craig Gardner could come in and maybe Joe Hart will be given a rest in goal.

We don't have too many choices up front if Agbonlahor doesn't make it, so it will probably fall to Campbell to do that job. However, I think there will only be a sprinkling of changes.

Bonus

Everybody wants to win the group, not least because it would allow the team to remain in Gothenburg rather than spending a night in Helsingborg. A point would allow us to achieve that. A win might carry the bonus of knocking Germany out of the competition as well!

The Germans played well against Spain and wore down Finland with a very professional performance. They are building confidence and we know all about how good German teams are in tournaments. They will be a force.

But having seen all of the teams, none have really stood out so far. There's nobody we are desperate to avoid and nobody has taken the competition by the scruff of the neck yet.

Maybe England will be the team to do that?

SMUDGER SAYS
Draw - It's a difficult game to predict because I don't know what team Pearce will put out, but I don't expect us to lose. The last thing Pearce wants to do is take his foot off the gas and a draw would suit both parties. I think that might be the best bet.

SMUDGER'S STAR MAN
Jack Rodwell - It will be interesting to see how Jack Rodwell performs if he comes into the side. He's quite inexperienced at this level, but like Kieran Gibbs he strikes me as somebody who won't be fazed by the environment and the atmosphere. It would be nice to see him play well because he's a proper footballer.

Comments (1)

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Rhys Jaggar (Arsenal fan) says...

I guess Mr Pearce must think about whether he would prefer Germany or Spain to go through, whether winning all the games is the most likely way to win the tournament and whether he would prefer Italy, Sweden or Serbia in the semi-final...... My hunch would be that young players always benefit from keeping on winning.... And that they shouldn't fear anyone in the tournament because there is no reason to...........

Posted 12:10 20th June 2009

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