Wembley was red and blue on Saturday – in more ways than one – as Crystal Palace trio all feature against the Swiss – South London News
BY ANDREW MCSTEEN AT WEMBLEY
First it was outside of Wembley.
‘Red entrance, blue entrance’, said the gigantic LED screens in front of the stadium, helping fans find their sections to sit.
Then it was coming out of the media lifts – the red and blue imagery of the FA and England brands.
Finally, it was the kits. England playing in blue kits with red trim.
Red and blue was everywhere and it was apt, as for the first time in more than 30 years and for just the second time in club history, three Crystal Palace players took to the field for an England senior game. Marc Guehi, Tyrick Mitchell and Conor Gallagher all had match time in England’s 2-1 friendly win against Switzerland.
Not since June 8, 1991 have so many players from SE25 represented the Three Lions. Back then, the trio of Geoff Thomas, Ian Wright and John Salako all played in Wellington against New Zealand in a friendly manner, with a fourth Eagle, Nigel Martyn, an unused sub. Four days later, Thomas and Wright started against Malaysia, the last time two Eagles had started an England senior game.
In fact, in addition to that New Zealand game with three players, just seven times in total have two players from the club appeared for England previously if you take the club formation as 1861, or five times if you go with 1905.
Saturday saw Guehi and Mitchell create their own history as they made their senior debuts, while Gallagher won his second cap under current England boss and former Palace captain Gareth Southgate.
Former Crystal Palace left-back Chris Powell and former goalkeeping coach Martyn Margetson, both now England coaches under Southgate, added to the Palace feeling at Wembley – a venue which fans of the club will be hoping to give to visit in both April and May as they bid to win the FA Cup.
But the England crowd were behind the Palace players on Saturday with the starting pair of central defender Guehi and attacking midfielder Gallagher receiving rapturous applause when their names were called out pre-match.
England’s Marc Guehi (left) and Ben White during the Alzheimer’s Society international match at Wembley Stadium, London
Ahead of the team walking out for the national anthem, Mitchell and his fellow subs came out and took their seats, Mitchell walking with Raheem Sterling, a player he would spend most of his evening with.
Guehi, wearing number four lined up on the left-side of central defence, alongside Conor Coady and with Luke Shaw on his left. Gallagher, wearing number seven, was deployed ahead and both impressed almost from the start, having touches on the ball inside 30 seconds to calm any nerves they may have had.
Gallagher was a threat throughout his 61 minutes on the pitch, his pressurizing and pinpoint passes causing danger for the Swiss down one end and then his defensive tracking back breaking up the visitors’ attacks.
But it was the visitors who went ahead first, through a Breel Embolo header in the 22nd minute. Guehi and Gallagher were not to blame though, with former Brighton defender Ben White out of position at the back post.
Just short of the 40th minute, Mitchell and Sterling came off the bench to warm up together. Even though it was just a stretch, it would have been a big moment for Mitchell, who had never before represented any country at any level, unlike Guehi, who had played for England from the U16 level all the way through.
On the pitch, as Palace fans know only too well, Gallagher does not stop and it was due to his pressurizing and running that England were able to get back into the game.
In additional first-half time Gallagher’s cross was initially meant for parent club team-mate Mason Mount, but he let it go through to the onrushing left-back Luke Shaw, who shot a piledriver into the net to bring the score level at 1- 1.
Gallagher had yet another assist this season.
The second half saw an unchanged line-up and Gallagher and Guehi swapped roles at times, Gallagher almost being the last man in defense for England, cutting out a through ball in the right-back position as Switzerland threatened to break. Guehi headed wide from an attacking corner a few minutes later.
But three Eagles on the pitch was not to be as, officially in the 61st minute – although it took some time for the game to restart due to a deluge of changes – Gallagher came off, for Declan Rice and Mitchell came on, for Luke Shaw .
While the young Palace full-back was preparing to come on, he had an arm around him and words of encouragement from Powell.
As Gallagher came off he walked right past the waiting Mitchell and gave him a back slap for good luck.
Even though a Mexican wave had started as Mitchell stepped across the white line, on the pitch it was 100 per cent focus needed, with fellow substitute Jack Grealish immediately speaking, then pointing to the former Brentford academy player about where to position himself.
He was assured, although not under much pressure.
With 82 minutes on the clock Mitchell – wearing number 23, the preferred number of basketball legend Michael Jordan – found himself in the Switzerland area, but Sterling’s chip pass from the edge of the box was not high enough. Yet another tackle from the 22-year-old in the dying moments saw him end his debut without error.
As recently as July 2020, Mitchell had made his professional debut, with former England boss Roy Hodgson bringing him on a substitute away at Leicester. This was in front of zero fans due to Covid, while on Saturday, his England debut was in front of 78,881. He had the same demeanour in both, such is his composure.
And when the final whistle went, Sterling was one of the first to go over to the Palace left-back.
After the game, Gallagher handled the media conference, while Guehi and Mitchell, brand new England caps in hand, reflected on their success, with Jack Grealish in between them in a behind-the-scenes video.
“Crazy feeling,” said Guehi, while Mitchell added: “It’s a real moment”. Grealish walked away with them saying “my guys”.
Palace fans everywhere will be saying the same.