MIDDLESBROUGH defender David Wheater has been rewarded for his impressive start to the season with a first call-up to the England Under-21 squad.
And Aston Villa forward Gabriel Agbonlahor has been welcomed back into the ranks by manager Stuart Pearce after going missing before this summer’s European Championship in Holland.
England’s friendly against Romania at Ashton Gate next Tuesday is their first match since the Championships and an opportunity for a fresh batch of youngsters to stake their claim for a place in the international set-up. Wheater came into the new season as Boro’s sixth-choice centre-back but injuries to Jonathan Woodgate, Emanuel Pogatetz, Robert Huth and Matthew Bates have given him his chance and the 20-year-old has responded impressively.
The Redcar-born defender played 15 games on loan for League Two side Darlington, where he was a key part in the Quakers’ improved form. He was recalled to the Riverside at the end of the campaign and made a goal-scoring Premiership appearance on the final day of last season in a 3-1 win over Fulham. And Wheater’s club-mate, winger Adam Johnson, is another uncapped member of Pearce’s squad.
Agbonlahor, 20, was left out of the squad for this summer’s tournament in Holland after the Football Association could not contact him. Villa boss Martin O’Neill initially took the blame for a breakdown in communications and Pearce – who led England’s youngsters to the semi-finals and has been appointed full-time boss – travelled to see the striker to discuss his international future.
Agbonlahor could have still applied to play for Scotland – manager Alex McLeish has expressed an interest – or Nigeria, but appears to have underlined his commitment to England. Theo Walcott is also included after missing the tournament to recover from shoulder surgery. There were also fresh call-ups for Martin Cranie, Craig Gardner, Michael Mancienne, Michael Kightly, Fabrice Muamba and Dexter Blackstock.
Under-21 regulars Steven Taylor and James Milner, of Newcastle United, and Andrew Taylor, of Middlesbrough, are included, as is former Sunderland goalkeeper Ben Alnwick, now at Tottenham.
UNDER-21S SQUAD: Alnwick (Tottenham), Hart (Man City), Cranie (Portsmouth), Gardner (Aston Villa), Mancienne (QPR), Onuoha (Man City), A Taylor (Middlesbrough), S Taylor (Newcastle), Wheater (Middlesbrough), Huddlestone (Tottenham), A Johnson (Middlesbrough), M Johnson (Man City), Kightly (Wolves), Milner (Newcastle), Muamba (Birmingham), Noble (West Ham), Agbonlahor (Aston Villa), Blackstock (QPR), Derbyshire (Blackburn), Moore (Aston Villa), Walcott (Arsenal).