With a 2014 World Cup finals place on the line, stakes are as high as ever for England this Tuesday, when they’ll welcome Poland to Wembley hoping to book their flight to Brazil.
With a 4-1 win against Montenegro under their belts, the Three Lions will be roaring and raring to get the three points needed to qualify, assuming Ukraine do the expected and beat San Marino in their fixture.
With that in mind, however, Roy Hodgson has several key players with more reason than the rest to perform to their fullest, with squad selection and more at risk.
Were it not for Andros Townsend’s Man of the Match display against the Montenegrins, Leighton Baines may well have been put forward for post-match honours himself.
The Everton man shone in an astutely rounded performance, offering plenty in attack but also making sure of his flank’s safety in defence for the large part.
However, Baines has the unenviable task of fending off Ashley Cole for a starting spot, England’s stalwart and first-choice left-back for more than a decade now.
If the Toffee is to maintain any sort of fight against the Chelsea star, he’ll need to ensure that consistency is kept up against Poland, lest he drop right back out of Hodgson’s starting XI, as good incentive as any to dazzle.
From possible Man of the Match to the man himself, Townsend capped off his first senior international start in the best way imaginable.
If the winger’s mesmerising run to set up Wayne Rooney’s score wasn’t enough, then the long-range screamer bagged by the Tottenham man late on last Friday was but the icing on the cake of a classy performance.
With that goal now under his belt, Townsend should retain his spot on the right flank for the visit of Poland but has to prove that he’s not just another one-hit wonder.
Michael Vaughn, for one, believes that the Spurs speedster deserves to start once again:
The butt of endless jokes of late, Joe Hart’s inconsistency in between England’s pipes has led to some suggestions that the Englishman should already have lost his starting place.
Having said that, Hart was safe against Montenegro and shrugged off any criticisms to contribute a secure display for Hodgson to consider.
That being said, places are still up for grabs with Rio now just nine or so months away, and it wouldn’t hurt the Manchester City man’s reputation to pitch in with another fine outing.