Matt Maher: England calls provide a cause for celebration

Last week’s England squad announcement prompted an immediate teaser for followers of West Midlands football.


              
Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins (left) and Tottenham Hotspur's Davinson Sanchez (right) battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Villa Park, Birmingham. Picture date: Sunday March 21, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Villa. Photo credit should read: Tim Keeton/PA Wire.
 

RESTRICTIONS: 
EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.
Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins (left) and Tottenham Hotspur's Davinson Sanchez (right) battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Villa Park, Birmingham. Picture date: Sunday March 21, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Villa. Photo credit should read: Tim Keeton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.

When was the last time Albion, Villa and Wolves all had players called up to the same Three Lions squad?

Finding the answer – March 2011 – required some considerable digging, not least because then Baggies goalkeeper Scott Carson was only included as a late replacement for Ben Foster (then with Birmingham) due to the latter suffering illness. Carson joined Wolves winger Matt Jarvis and the Villa trio of Stewart Downing, Ashley Young and Darren Bent in Fabio Capello’s squad.

Prior to that occasion you have to go back to the early 80s, when Emlyn Hughes skippered Wolves and all three clubs were battling it out in the top half of Division One.

Clearly, lack of representation in the international set-up is further evidence of how in recent decades West Midlands football has frequently failed to punch its collective weight.

In that respect the call-ups for Conor Coady, Tyrone Mings, Ollie Watkins and Sam Johnstone are cause for celebration.

Wolves skipper Coady, like Villa defender Mings, is becoming a regular member of Gareth Southgate’s squad. For Johnstone and Watkins, both called up for the first time, the next week is a chance to show the Three Lions boss what they can do with Euro 2020 now barely two months away.

Of the pair, Villa striker Watkins is more likely to see action in an actual match, based solely on the fact there will always be greater opportunities for outfield players.

England goalkeeper Scott Carson (left) and Matt Jarvis (right) walk out to a training session at Wembley Stadium,

His best chance may come tonight, when the visit of San Marino – the lowest-ranked team in the world – surely offers Southgate a platform for experimentation and an excuse to rest the likes of Harry Kane for more testing encounters against Albania and Poland.

Even if Watkins doesn’t make it on to the pitch in any of the three matches, the call-up alone is another step in a remarkable journey which has taken him from non-league to the Premier League in the space of six years. You suspect there will be other chances.

He is not the only Villa player to have caught Southgate’s eye this season. The England boss last week name-checked Matty Cash when discussing right-back options, while both Ezri Konsa and Matt Targett were considered for the current squad.

That is encouraging news for Villa and also a region which, until recently, was struggling to get even one player into the England squad.

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