West Ham full-back Aaron Cresswell has been handed a first England call-up after being drafted in alongside Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford for Friday’s World Cup qualifier against Scotland.
Interim manager Gareth Southgate had been hoping to avoid injury withdrawals after his 25-man squad reported for duty at St George’s Park on Monday but a handful of players required assessment, with Leicester midfielder Danny Drinkwater and Southampton keeper Fraser Forster deemed unfit.
The pair have withdrawn from the Wembley double header, with a prestige friendly against Spain following four days after the Scotland game, but the continued presence of Tottenham trio Harry Kane, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose is good news for Southgate.
Cresswell, 26, is a first-time addition to the Three Lions set-up and the fact that he is not a like-for-like replacement for Drinkwater suggests that concerns may still exist over Rose or his fellow left-back Ryan Bertrand.
Pickford, whose stock has risen despite the Black Cats’ troubled start to the season, was due to play for the under-21s in matches against Italy and France but has instead been promoted to cover Joe Hart and Tom Heaton.
Cresswell has played just three Premier League matches this season, having struggled with a knee injury at the start of the campaign.
He was then sent off on his return to the Hammers side at Crystal Palace but completed 90 minutes against Everton and Stoke.
Cresswell joined from Ipswich in July 2014 and, despite impressing in his first two seasons with the club, failed to dislodge the likes of Rose, Bertrand, Luke Shaw, Leighton Baines and Kieran Gibbs during the Roy Hodgson reign.
Southgate, who has already lost first-choice number 10 Dele Alli to a knee injury, saw his first squad hit by withdrawals last month – with Heaton, Glen Johnson and Raheem Sterling all pulling out after being named for games against Malta and Slovenia.
He will be hoping this is the end of his tinkering for now but is already on alert that Arsenal forward Theo Walcott could depart to attend the birth of his second child at any moment.
Heading into the weekend, Southgate’s biggest headache was over Kane’s participation.
But, having been out for seven weeks with an ankle complaint, the striker managed 73 minutes and, crucially, the equalising goal in a 1-1 draw at Arsenal on Sunday.
“The first thing we have to do with Harry is check how he is after yesterday,” said Southgate, whose four-game deal expires after the Spain clash.
“I think Spurs, maybe with Dele missing, took a decision for what was a very big game for them.
“We have a big game ourselves so we need to see what level Harry’s at when he reports, but it was great to see him back scoring and with a smile on his face at the end of the game.”
With 27 players having been called up by Southgate in the past 24 hours, those who have not been selected would be forgiven for worrying.
They include Everton’s Ross Barkley, who is enduring a difficult season and has not been required since Euro 2016, Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and West Ham midfielder Michail Antonio.
Southgate may, of course, have no further say in their international futures.
Both he and the Football Association have been careful not to talk too freely about the future beyond the double header, though the lack of obvious alternatives speaks well for Southgate’s candidacy.
And if he does end up in the post permanently, there was good news for those left behind on this occasion.
Asked if Barkley had been close to a recall, Southgate said: “Absolutely…we are fortunate that we have some very good players.
“It was very difficult to make the call to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Michail Antonio as well because I’ve seen them all playing in recent weeks and they’ve had good performances.
“But we have strength in depth and competition for places and any of these guys could force their way into the squad. I’ve no doubt they will in the coming months but we have to take a decision for the game on Friday and the game next Tuesday and this is the balance of the squad we went with.”
Southgate offered the kind of resolute block he would have been proud of in his playing days when pressed for an update on his intentions for the top job.
The 46-year-old has yet to even confirm he is interested in succeeding Sam Allardyce on a long-term basis and was again unwilling to take the spotlight away from matters at hand.
“What happens to me isn’t important over the next 10 days, it’s about us preparing to beat Scotland and about leaving the team and the country top of qualifying at the end of Friday night,” he said.
“That’s my only focus. I’ve got two really exciting matches to take charge of team and I’m really looking forward to doing that.
“What’s important is I’m leading my country in an important and prestigious game and the focus is on preparing the team as well as possible.”