Roy Hodgson fears his preparations for Tuesday evening's World Cup qualifier against Ukraine could be further disrupted by a virus that has prompted Theo Walcott to be sent home and is threatening to afflict other members of his England squad.
Walcott returned to Arsenal on Monday after being "violently sick" overnight, with the Chelsea forward Daniel Sturridge also excluded and effectively quarantined at the team's Hertfordshire hotel after suffering stomach cramps.
Hodgson was left to train with only 15 outfield players at London Colney ahead of what is expected to prove one of the trickier home fixtures in Group H and has since drafted in Liverpool's teenage winger Raheem Sterling, Southampton's uncapped Adam Lallana and the Tottenham midfielder Jake Livermore to ensure he can fill the bench at Wembley.
The trio linked up at the team hotel on Monday night and attended the preparatory squad meeting on tactics. Although none is expected to feature against Ukraine, the prospect remains that other members of the party could be struck down by the virus before kick-off.
"We've tried manfully to deal with all the absences and I had a big squad when we started out," Hodgson said. "Going to Moldova last week, I didn't think there were any problems. We had the XI I wanted to start the game and options on the bench. But we've since lost John Terry to injury and Ashley Cole didn't return to the squad. Theo Walcott was the catalyst for us to seek out a contingency plan because it's some sort of virus.
"He had trained fully on Sunday and was as fit as a fiddle but was then violently sick on Monday morning and had to be sent home. Daniel also trained on Sunday but with stomach cramps and woke up with the same cramps, so the doctor advised us to keep him out of training and see how things are.
"The doctor is quite confident he will be OK, though. I can only hope nothing is going round the squad. That was why we were quite keen to get Theo home as soon as possible and also keep Daniel away from the squad. I have to hope it's just an isolated case. But we've brought in three players who interest us for the future and that'll be a contingency plan and ensure we'll fill our quota on the bench. That's the thinking."
Livermore made his debut as a substitute in last month's friendly victory over Italy in Berne but the elevation of Sterling – who played his first game for the Under-19s last week in their defeat by Germany – and Lallana is eye-catching, even merely as an emergency back-up plan. The 17-year-old Liverpool winger has made two Premier League starts and the Southampton midfielder, 24, was playing in League One 16 months ago and has a solitary Under-21 cap, from 2008.
Hodgson was interested in Lallana while he was in charge at Fulham and West Bromwich Albion, though the England manager has stressed to both uncapped players that this is part of their continuing education and urged them to justify their selection in front of more established names next time around.
Walcott is the fifth player to withdraw from Hodgson's current squad, after Andy Carroll, Adam Johnson, Cole and Terry, but the 12th to be unavailable altogether – joining Wayne Rooney, Phil Jones, Jack Wilshere, Scott Parker, Ashley Young and Gareth Barry – among those the England manager had envisaged selecting. Although it could be deemed surprising that Swansea's Nathan Dyer and Manchester City's Scott Sinclair were not offered a place in the set-up, Hodgson made it clear he had not considered turning back to the forgotten man Peter Crouch.
The 31-year-old Stoke striker had been on Hodgson's proposed standby list for the summer's European Championship, only to make himself unavailable for selection. That decision seems to cast doubt over his future involvement at this level after 22 goals and 42 caps. "I selected him for the Euros but he didn't want to come," Hodgson said. "He made it clear that, unless he was in the squad, he didn't want to be considered. I'm not going to bring him in to fill up the bench."
Hodgson hopes to make only one change to his starting line-up on Tuesday evening, virus permitting, with Phil Jagielka expected to replace the absent Terry. The Everton defender resumed his centre-back partnership with Joleon Lescott in training on Monday as a full team confronted an improvised back three of Kyle Walker, Gary Cahill and Ryan Bertrand, shielded by Michael Carrick, with the manager's options decidedly stretched.
Hodgson is aware an awkward evening awaits, against opponents who tested England severely in Donetsk at Euro 2012, in what is potentially the most awkward home fixture in the section.
The Football Association expects a crowd of more than 70,000, with sales having spiked over the weekend following Friday's 5-0 win in Moldova. "The Ukrainians are physically strong and athletic, and we're fully aware that this game poses a totally different problem for us," added Hodgson. "Moldova was a step into the unknown. This is less of that, but the quality of the two teams out there will be very similar."
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