Alan Curbishley was delighted with the rearguard resilience shown by his team in securing three points on the first day of the Barclays Premier League season.
The manager described the 2-1 defeat of Wigan Athletic as the typical "game of two halves". Having seen his side surge into a two-goal lead in a first half they dominated, he then watched as his players from front to back kept a dominant Wigan at bay after the interval. He said: "We took advantage in the first half because we scored two and perhaps could have had another one but they got on top in the second half. We defended ever so well."
Although Dean Ashton's two early goals set the tone, Amr Zaki pulled one back after the restart to leave a few nerves jangling at the Boleyn Ground. However, the new-look back four that had debutant Valon Behrami at right-back, Lucas Neill at left-back and Matthew Upson and Calum Davenport, on his first competitive appearance in claret and blue since March 2007, in the centre stayed strong.
Behind them Robert Green once again attracted attention - not least for a world-class save from Wigan inspiration Wilson Palacios. "If that had gone in it may have been a lot more difficult for us," Curbishley said. "He does his job quietly. [With regard to England] he can't do any more than he is doing and we said that last year. He knows that and he has just got to get on with it."
Upson has been called up by his country for the midweek visit of the Czech Republic to Wembley, while Dean Ashton has been excluded after being withdrawn during the weekend game with what felt like severe cramp. The manager was thrilled with his striker's contribution. "He has got so much ability and brings people into the game and is a very good finisher ... We are delighted that he has got his two goals."
Talking generally of the England players in his contingent, Curbishley added: "We think that in our squad we have got some players that can force the issue. Matty Upson played for [Fabio] Capello before he got injured at the end of last season and Dean played in the summer. We have got Greeny and there are one or two other boys that but they have got to be playing and playing well."
One player who has not been mentioned in England reckoning is Carlton Cole but the 24-year-old striker caught the manager's eye. "He can be very pleased with his performance," he said of Cole, who was a good foil for Ashton and cleared one off the line at the other end as well as a number of timely blocks and headers. "He just needs a goal," added Curbishley who will watch this week's internationals with baited breath before Sunday's televised trip to Manchester City.