David Nugent: one cap, one goal
England, and their coach Steve McClaren, owe an immense debt to the city of Liverpool, Cardinal Heenan High School, the suburb of Huyton and its Bluebell Estate. But why? The answer can be found in the lives of their two goalscorers on Wednesday night.
There are a lot of similarities in the backgrounds of Steven Gerrard and David Nugent. Both were raised on the Bluebell Estate in Huyton (a suburb of the city of Liverpool), educated at Cardinal Heenan High School, and the pair have given McClaren some breathing space after he was subjected to some vitriolic criticism from the English press after draws against Macedonia and Israel and a defeat to Croatia in three of their four most recent qualifiers for UEFA EURO 2008.
Yet although Gerrard and Nugent have lived almost parallel lives, there are some subtle differences. While Gerrard proudly captains Liverpool, has won a UEFA Champions League medal, experienced UEFA Cup success and earned 55 caps for his country, Nugent is currently playing in the second tier of English football for Preston North End, was making his debut against Andorra - and is a fervent follower of Everton Football Club, the Reds' arch-rivals.
Prior to the game against Andorra, Nugent's international experience had been limited to eight caps for England's U-21 side - a team which he is still eligible to play for. His call-up to the senior squad was met with a few raised eyebrows from those who saw his inclusion as little more than a name to make up the numbers. While his selection may have been due to injuries to Darren Bent, Peter Crouch and Michael Owen, it is also fair to say that Nugent grabbed his chance against Andorra with both hands.
Another similarity between Gerrard and Nugent is that both began their footballing education with Liverpool, but while Gerrard's career went from strength to strength with the Anfield giants, Nugent was rejected by the club at the age of 14 and found himself playing for Bury. There, he managed to score 20 goals in 66 starts before moving to Preston for fee of £100,000. It only took the fans of the Deepdale club a few matches before finding out that their club had unearthed a gem.
Last season, he was named as the Championship's Young Player of the Year after scoring 11 goals in 34 appearances for Preston, which alerted the interest of several Premiership clubs, including Sheffield United and Everton. He has made no secret of his desire to move to Goodison Park, stating in a recent interview: "I want to play for Everton, there's no question about that. Hopefully, I will play for them in my career and I'm confident that I will do. "
Time will tell whether his fairy tale move will come to fruition, but the script of debut for England was 'the stuff of dreams' for the 21-year-old. Nugent replaced Andrew Johnson with 11 minutes of the game to go against Andorra, and scored in the final minute when he turned in Jermain Defoe's blocked shot from little more than a yard away from the goal line.
'No better feeling'
"It is the stuff of dreams," he said after the match. "You can't beat playing for your country and scoring as well, I'll have a smile on my face for the next week or so. There is no better feeling than scoring on my debut, especially playing in the Championship. It shows there's a chance that if you play in the Championship and keep on scoring goals then you'll get your chance.
"I was only on for 15 minutes and I should have scored earlier, I thought my chance was over, but another came along and I poached it on the line, so it's a proper striker's goal. It was definitely my goal. I've had 15 texts on my phone saying it was my goal, so I'm claiming it! Jermain Defoe has told me that he would have done the same thing, and he's made up for me, so it's one cap, one goal."
After the euphoria has died down, Nugent may do well to remember the example of Francis Jeffers, another striker born and bred in Liverpool, who netted for England in a friendly against Australia in 2003 after coming on as substitute. Sadly for Jeffers, he was never given another chance for his country again and is now struggling to claim a starting place with Blackburn Rovers.
Yet, one would expect Nugent to be given another chance by McClaren. After all, it was his goal which gave the scoreline a more emphatic feel after England, currently ranked sixth in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, took 54 minutes to break down a side currently 154 places below them.
When the players and coaching staff went in for the half-time interval, they were roundly booed by the fans in Barcelona's Olympic Stadium, but the derogatory chants aimed at the coach had been changed to more positive airings of 'England, England' and 'God Save The Queen' at the final whistle.
Which is why the next time McClaren goes to a game at Anfield or Goodison Park to check on the progress on his charges at club level before the end of the season, he could do well to pop into the Bluebell Estate in Huyton to say a little 'thank you' for its assistance against Andorra. Who knows, he may even spot another potential England star practising his skills as he drives past…