International door unexpectedly reopens for Ferdinand and Ince


THE irony was not lost on Les Ferdinand. Having been largely ignored by Terry Venables when he was scoring without pause for Newcastle, he has been chosen as soon as the goals have dried up.

Surely some mistake? No, once Alan Shearer was ruled out with a groin injury Venables had little choice. To pass over Ferdinand, after one start in nine squad appearances, and play new recruit Robbie Fowler against Bulgaria at Wembley tonight would have been a snub too far. He would have lost the player for good.

Teddy Sheringham returns to support him while Steve McManaman and, after a year's absence, Paul Ince, are recalled. The other change from December's 1-1 draw with Portugal is Gareth Southgate, who makes his first international start in place of the injured Tony Adams. David Platt has been left out, and Stuart Pearce is tonight's captain.

Ferdinand said he had "started to think the fact I was not scoring goals for Newcastle might affect my England prospects." With one goal in five games for Newcastle, he may find being away from the title race relaxes him enough to rediscover his goal touch. "It might be nice to get away from it. It is a very intense situation " he added.

It will certainly be a relief to be partnered by Sheringham, rather than the unpredictable Faustino Asprilla. "You can't blame it all on him," Ferdinand said, "but he does play in a different way. He has a wealth of talent but is difficult to read, you never know what he is going to do next. That he does not speak the language does not help."

Paul Ince would sympathise. Yesterday he said communication problems had hindered his start with Inter Milan. They still cause problems his sending-off on Sunday came after he disputed a yellow card wrongly given for "diving". His subsequent failure to leave the field for three minutes could result in a long ban, making a good performance tonight all the more important.

Ince, who last played in the abandoned game in Dublin, said: "It has been a long year. Although I am a strong character I wondered, at the back of my mind, if I was going to get back in. It was getting close to the summer. he had a settled squad. I was not sure what was going to happen. I had to start playing well at Inter, and I have. The difference was the arrival of Roy Hodgson as manager. If he had not come I would not be at Inter now."

Ince said he nearly returned to England in the autumn but Massimo Moratti, the president who went out on a limb to buy him, persuaded him to remain for the season. Moratti's persuasive. powers may be tested again on Friday, when Ince tells him if he will stay for two more years, or exercise his escape clause.

Venables. who rarely confirms substitutes before match-day. said Fowler would be on the bench. The biggest worry for Venables may be his central defenders who have less than five hours' international experience behind them.