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Watkins in, Grealish binned: Southgate chooses his Villains

Gareth Southgate has been all but a permanent fixture at Aston Villa fixtures in recent months. An abundance of highly performing Englishmen has left the national manager with a number of decisions to make regarding the Villains to select for the upcoming Euro qualifiers. Now, with the latest squad revealed, his decisions will have resulted in both delight and disappointment in the Midlands.

Tyrone Mings, now almost a shoo-in, has unsurprisingly retained his place in the 26 man party. What is perhaps a surprise, is that only one more space has been awarded to a club teammate of his.

Ollie Watkins has made a great success of his debut season in the Premier League. 10 goals in 27 games represents a solid return but it has been his insatiable work-rate that has endeared him to the Villa Park faithful and seemingly those in charge of the national setup. Few would begrudge the former Brentford star his moment, although his selection ahead of Patrick Bamford has drawn questions in some areas.

Whilst Watkins can bask in the pride that a first international call-up brings, there are four Villains for whom Southgate’s Thursday announcement will have brought nothing more than frustration.

Jack Grealish’s return from injury has come too late to for Southgate to include him for the three upcoming qualifiers. The player of the season contender has faced a well-documented uphill battle to establish himself with the Three Lions and will likely feel a huge opportunity to stake a claim for a Euro starting berth has been missed. Grealish will, though, almost certainly make the squad for finals if fit. For Matty Cash, his own injury has likely snatched away his potential audition. A personal mention from the national manager when discussing the ‘incredible position of strength’ at right-back may at least offer light encouragement.

For Ezri Konsa and Matt Targett, the phone never rang and excellent seasons so far have been left unrewarded. Whilst the door is not, by any means, closed for good, Southgate’s snub will likely have left a bitter taste for both uncapped stars.

Perhaps more importantly, it leaves them both with options. Konsa, at 23, has plenty of time to prove himself but his mix of Congolese and Angolan parentage and eligibility for Portuguese citizenship leaves him with an abundance of options should he be overlooked in the future. For Targett, Scotland may have just become a more interesting angle. If it wasn’t for the fact that their two top players were fellow left-backs, Targett would perhaps now be exploring his options.

Six Villa men had very realistic chances of receiving a phone call from Gareth Southgate on Thursday but only two calls were made. For the four men left in the cold, their quest to prove the England manager wrong begins with a face-off against Tottenham on Monday night. If they can maintain their form, there may still be an outside shot for each of the exiled quartet to force Southgate’s hand before the summer.

Dan Fox

Long suffering Saints fan, Le Tissier disciple and extremely limited non-league target man.

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