Lescott stands tall for England after Terry-Ferdinand furore

England ensured safe passage to the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 with a 1-0 victory over Ukraine on Tuesday evening, a hard-fought three points that saw Roy Hodgson’s side soak up a great deal of pressure exerted by the co-hosts. It was a game that required and received a sturdy defence, with Manchester City’s Joleon Lescott central to it.

 Lescott was in danger of becoming the forgotten man in England’s defensive unit. The build-up to the tournament and the announcement of the squad itself was dominated by rumours surrounding the possible inclusion and exclusion of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, and then by the fall-out due to the involvement of the former and not the latter. Then as that particular furore died down came the double fractured jaw suffered by Terry’s Chelsea teammate Gary Cahill in the final pre-tournament friendly against Belgium, depriving Hodgson of another option in defence. While every manager no doubt desires as many alternatives as is practical, the absence of Ferdinand and Cahill has allowed Lescott to flourish.

The former Everton defender has arguably kept up the good form that began during City’s successful assault on the Premier League. When revealing Lescott had been ranked highly for his performances in the opening two Euro 2012 games by Fabio Capello’s player rating index, the Manchester Evening News wrote: “[Lescott], who along with Vincent Kompany provided the foundation for City’s Premier League title success, has looked solid for Roy Hodgson’s side so far,” while the Guardian quoted Lescott’s City teammate Micah Richards as describing Lescott as the best English defender on show last season. Richards said: “I can’t name an English centre-half who has had a better season. He just doesn’t get the credit he’s due and I don’t know why that is. I really don’t know. All I can say is that if you watch our games he’s been unbelievable.

The same Guardian article that quotes Richards also reveals that as of the time of publication, June 5, Lescott had only once before started three consecutive international games. Lescott has since recorded that feat again through the three group D games and, barring injury will make it a fourth appearance in a row in the quarter-final with Italy. England reached that point by conceding three goals in as many games, one against France and two against Sweden, while Lescott was on target in the opening match against Laurent Blanc’s side, confirming that his contribution has been felt at both ends of the pitch. That goal incidentally renders Lescott as England’s joint-highest scorer, as all the other players to find the net have also done so on a single occasion.

Defending is nevertheless a team effort and Lescott’s colleagues deserve praise too, not only for some of their individual performances but for easing the lesser-experienced Lescott into the side. Yet if the issues around Ferdinand were not so complicated and Cahill had not injured his jaw, the City defender would be sitting on the bench, a reminder of how quickly fortunes can change at international level.

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