Hodgson pays high price for his sideline dithering
England 1-1 Russia
Published 13/06/2016 | 02:30
France were struggling to beat Romania last Friday in the opening match to Euro 2016 so coach Didier Deschamps made decisive calls.
Off came Antoine Griezmann and, later, Paul Pogba. Off came the two poster boys of French football; the big names, the big hopes for Les Bleus.
England, despite playing well, were struggling to beat Russia one day later in Marseille, but Roy Hodgson waited, even after he had discussed with his coaching staff bringing on Jamie Vardy or Daniel Sturridge.
England finally got the breakthrough courtesy of Eric Dier's powerfully whipped free-kick, but it did not prove enough. They had not pressed their advantage; they needed more, and they paid the price.
Hodgson later agreed with the contention that his players had to be more "ruthless" in front of goal - if they had taken their first-half opportunities this would not even be a debate.
But maybe, also, the England manager needed to show a bit more ruthlessness himself. Certainly he was bold in his team selection, but was he bold enough in his substitutions?
It is a cliché to say the strength of a team is its bench - and the decisiveness of a manager to use or not use it - but it is a cliché for a reason. It is because it is true.
OK, Hodgson took off what he said was a tiring Wayne Rooney, England's biggest name, who had acquitted himself well in his new midfield role, and brought on Jack Wilshere.
Presumably the intention was for Wilshere to look after the ball - instead he went hunting too far forward probably because of his desire to make such an impression that he would force his way into the starting line-up for Thursday's encounter with Wales, which England surely have to win to top Group B.
Hodgson's other changes? Milner for Raheem Sterling, whose confidence visibly suffered during the course of the game and stayed on too long, with three minutes to go and then readying Jordan Henderson to replace Adam Lallana in injury-time.
Too late. Henderson did not get on before Milner was himself slow to react, Danny Rose was isolated and beaten in the air by the far taller Vasili Berezutksi and the veteran central defender's header looped over Joe Hart to provide Russia's undeserved equaliser.
"It's very difficult to come here and talk positively when something has kicked us down in the last minute like it has," Hodgson said.
"But we will get over it. There is no question of that and we will bounce back. My hope is, my dream is, that we will play as well in the next two matches and go on to do well in the tournament."
Play as well, but play smarter. There was so much good about England's play but also so much familiar.
They should have won an opening game at a European Championship finals for their first time in the history of the competition and at the ninth time of asking.
Instead, they surrendered a lead for the fifth time in the opening match of the Euros.
It appeared, perhaps harshly, that for Hodgson it boiled down to a fear of conceding a goal.
Instead, he could have exploited Russia's obvious need to get back into a game that England should have put to bed earlier and might have put to bed with some decisive, pre-emptive changes.
"We certainly did discuss Vardy and Sturridge during the course of the game," Hodgson said. "But, after the opening 15 minutes (of the second-half) when Russia pegged us back a bit, I thought we were looking quite comfortable.
"We were looking as though we were going to score a second goal, so it was a difficult.
"It was a question more of trusting the ones who had done a job up to then or throwing the dice and putting others on who you couldn't be certain would come into the game as quickly as the ones who were playing there," he said. "Who knows? With substitutions it's always a question of hindsight."
Of course it is. But that is partly what the manager gets paid the big bucks for - seeing things and remedying them quicker than the rest of us - and this was another harsh lesson learnt that dented an otherwise richly encouraging performance.
It also did nothing to dispel the notion that England will be put away by the first good team they meet.
If Hodgson needs to be more ruthless, then so do the players. "It's something we talk about; something we work on," he said.
"I don't think any of the players if you said to them: 'would you like to be more ruthless, you should be more ruthless in front of goal' would disagree with you. But there were a lot of young players out there and it's hopefully something that will come with more games.
"But on a day when it hasn't worked for you, and you have missed goal chances and you haven't been ruthless, as you are suggesting we should be, there's not a lot I can say in defence of it. It's a valid comment."
It is a concern that so few opportunities fell to Harry Kane - who struggled - and also an unfathomable curiosity that Hodgson persists with the idea that the Premier League's top-scorer should take set pieces.
The centre-forward took six corners - only one fewer than he managed in 38 league games last season for Tottenham Hotspur - but did not have a single touch inside the opposition box.
That's not right, whatever Hodgson's reasoning.
"He's the one who gives us the best delivery," he maintained. "We've tried many other players and we don't get the same level of delivery as we get from Harry.
"And, also, we have so many players in the penalty area at the moment who are very good at attacking the ball - Wayne Rooney, of course, being one who is very good in that area - that we don't necessarily need him there."
Unfortunately hindsight also proved that to be wrong.