Leeds United nostalgia: Martyn missed out on deserved England call-ups

Nigel Martyn.
Nigel Martyn.
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Nigel Martyn is one of several players whose England careers were less extensive than they should have been. The goalkeeper had the misfortune of occupying David Seaman’s shadow, restricted to 23 caps over the course of a decade while Seaman amassed 75.

Martyn’s consistency for Leeds United deserved much better but Seaman, Arsenal’s long-time number one, rarely put his international place at risk. It took a sudden injury in the hour before England’s last group game of Euro 2000, against Romania 16 years ago tonight, to thrust Martyn into the fray at that tournament.

England’s coach, Kevin Keegan, had named Seaman in his starting line-up but was forced to draft Martyn in after Seaman pulled up during the warm-up. United’s keeper found himself in the firing line on a bad night for England which ended their involvement.

Keegan’s side had hung in in Group A by following up a 3-2 loss to Portugal with a 1-0 victory over Germany. Alan Shearer’s header against the Germans left England needing only a point in Charleroi to progress at the expense of Romania.

Martyn was in the thick of the game after only five minutes, reacting brilliantly to keep Adrian Ilie’s free-kick out of the top corner, but the early parts of the first half were ominous. Romania opened the scoring after 22 minutes when Cristian Chivu’s cross to the far post unintentionally drifted into the net with the help of the woodwork.

Chivu and Chelsea’s Dan Petrescu went close to a second Romanian goal as an embattled Martyn fought against the tide but from nowhere, in the final four minutes before half-time, England struck twice to turn the game on its head.

A foul by Chivu on Paul Ince presented Shearer with a penalty which the striker dispatched confidently and with the interval approaching, Michael Owen pounced on a deflated Romania defence by running onto Paul Scholes’ chipped pass and guiding the ball over keeper Bogdan Stelea.

Romania were without suspended captain Gheorghe Hagi and looked to be crying out for him at half-time but their coach, Emerich Jenei, said the absence of Hagi had not caused a problem.

“Because Hagi was absent, the players tried to make up for it,” he said. Just three minutes into the second half, Martyn’s failed attempt to claim a hanging cross was punished by a sharp finish from Dorinel Munteanu.

At that stage, Keegan knew a draw was enough for his side and much of the second half played out nervously. But with a minute to go, Phil Neville lost track of Viorel Moldovan and hacked him down with a rash tackle inside the box. Substitute Ionel Ganea sent Martyn the wrong way from the spot to snatch a 3-2 win.

“The penalty was not a penalty,” Jenei said. “It was a present.”

Keegan, as was his way, addressed the defeat and England’s early exit with blunt honesty as they prepared to leave Belgium.

“I’ve told the lads the reasons why we are on our way home,” he said. “We got into a position of being 2-1 up but we never played as well as we can.

“We have to ask if we can pass it better and control a game. The answer in this tournament is sadly no. Now we have to go away and lick our wounds.”