Jagielka backs Baines to plug Cole hole
Phil Jagielka has backed Everton colleague Leighton Baines to prove an able deputy for the injured Ashley Cole in England’s penultimate World Cup qualifier at home to Montenegro on Friday.
Chelsea defender Cole has been ruled out of the game due to a rib injury and could also miss England’s final Group H game at home to Poland next Tuesday.
It means manager Roy Hodgson will probably turn to Baines, who has excelled at left-back for Everton for several seasons but whose progress at international level has long been barred by the consistency of Cole.
Jagielka, however, has no doubts that his 28-year-old Goodison Park colleague is ready to prove his worth.
“Ashley Cole has done a fantastic job,” Jagielka said at England’s St George’s Park training base on Tuesday.
“If Leighton does get a chance to play, I’m sure he won’t let us down. He’s a fantastic defender and a fantastic attacking threat as well.”
With second-place Ukraine hosting Poland on Friday, failure to beat Montenegro at Wembley Stadium could see England forfeit top spot in the group, which would seriously jeopardise their chances of securing automatic qualification for next year’s tournament in Brazil.
However, England can guarantee qualification with a pair of victories in their final two qualifiers and Jagielka says that he and his team-mates are not even contemplating failure.
“We should have got it done and dusted by now, but obviously that’s not the case,” the Everton captain said.
“But we’re still looking at it from a very positive angle. The two results we need, it’s in our hands, and we’re looking at booking that flight to Rio.”
Central midfielder Jack Wilshere has pointed to the availability of strikers Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge, both of whom missed England’s last two qualifying games through injury, as a further reason for optimism.
“We have got Sturridge and Rooney back, which is going to be massive for us as you want your best players available,” said the Arsenal midfielder.
“Rickie Lambert has done a great job. He scored a couple and did well in [the 0-0 draw in] Ukraine, which was a difficult place to go and be up there on your own and do the job he did. He did really well.
“We have got [Jermain] Defoe as well, who can score from any position, and Danny Welbeck as well, who is looking sharp. We have got a good mix there and it can only be helpful for us.”
England drew 1-1 when they last met Montenegro in Podgorica in March and Jagielka says that Hodgson’s side know what to expect from them.
“I was there when we drew the game away at Montenegro. As a team they’ve got a fantastic unit together,” he said.
“They put us under a lot of pressure, they are progressing and they’re confident as well. They’re going into this game as confident as us due to the fact they’ve picked up draws against us before, and they’re still in with a chance of trying to qualify themselves.
“We all know the task that lies ahead. I think there are quite a few people who’ve got the experience of being in similar situations before, so they’ve got big roles to play.
“We’ve also got some young lads with fantastic ability, so we’re massively confident we can go out there and put on a good performance which can hopefully produce goals.”