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Graft of Milner may be a safer bet than guile of others for England

Detractors will tell you James Milner is only odds-on at 1/2 to make Roy Hodgson’s England squad for the World Cup because he is versatile and the coach is cautious. They should think again after a tactically astute performance from the Manchester City winger.

Milner may not have made headlines as City knocked Chelsea out of the FA Cup, but caught the eye in the supporting cast behind goalscorers Stevan Jovetic and a returning Samir Nasri.

Like assistants Edin Dzeko and David Silva, there were clever touches from Milner in key areas. Unlike that forward-thinking pair though, he afforded his full back plenty of protection.

If the hard grafting Milner continues to put in performances like that, he will be in the Three Lions squad on merit as well as dependability. Hodgson only currently has Tottenham’s attacking right back Kyle Walker available as a natural option for that flank of defence.

Tempting as it is to keep him paired with club teammate Andros Townsend (4/11 to be on the plane), there is a danger England could be exposed and open to the counterattack against Italy and Uruguay.

Those opening games will be key to shaping Hodgson’s fortunes and Milner should have enhanced his chances to be a starter. Punters can get 7/2 on him being in the XI against Italy.

Unfortunately for Milner, he is not the only player in the frame. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, no less versatile and in possession of abundantly more pace, continued his comeback from a knee injury by helping Arsenal avenge their Premier League hiding at Anfield by beating Liverpool in the FA Cup.

Oxlade-Chamberlain scored the opener before making Lukas Podolski’s winner at the Emirates Stadium. He is now odds-on at 4/5 for an England spot in Brazil and 6/1 to start the first game.

Hodgson also name-checked three others capable of playing wide in a recent interview. First was Reds winger Raheem Sterling, a 6/4 shot to make the 23-man World Cup roster.

“Since he got back into the Liverpool team his form seems to be going up and up,” Hodgson said. “He is doing it for a top team and that puts a lot of pressure on everybody else because if you can do it at the top of the table with Liverpool then you can do it in an England shirt as well.”

Sunderland’s rejuvenated Adam Johnson (4/1) and Manchester United misfit Wilfried Zaha (16/1 with Coral), who has two assists in three appearances on loan at Cardiff City, were also mentioned by Hodgson.

“Zaha is back in the frame again because he’s playing football at Cardiff,” he added. “Adam Johnson is another contender. These guys have got it all to play for but at the end of the day I’ll have to make a choice. I can’t take all of them.”

England fans will be glad to hear that. Hodgson can do a lot worse than rewarding hard work and plumping for Milner wide right.