Sturridge rescues England and his manager
England 2 Wales 1
Published 17/06/2016 | 02:30
Successful teams can emerge, change and shift during tournaments but, at half-time yesterday, England appeared set for revolution, not evolution.
Roy Hodgson was staring down the barrel, Gareth Bale having pulled the trigger with a free-kick that will give Joe Hart nightmares, and his selections backfiring. Talk did not appear to be cheap.
Hodgson had kept faith in Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane and it had not worked. He had persisted with a 4-3-3 formation and it had also failed.
Even his decision to take Kane off set-pieces, replacing him with Wayne Rooney, looked strange as it appeared to be the response of a man under pressure reacting to criticism, not one full of conviction.
Hodgson had raised his eyes plaintively in the dugout as he slumped back after Bale's effort from 28 yards was pushed into the net rather than out of it by Hart, and the goalkeeper was still shaking his head for minutes afterwards.
He was not alone. At that point Hodgson will have believed the gods were conspiring against him as a team set up to be bold and fearless had a meek, ponderous look.
But how that changed. Hodgson denied that bringing on Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge at half-time and shifting England to a 4-4-2, with Rooney at the tip of the midfield diamond, was a last throw of the dice - he called it a "controlled decision" - but it looked like the instinct of a gambler with only one chance left to take.
By the end - and it was the very, very end - England had their winning goal as Sturridge forced his way through with those quick, dancing feet and the narrative had turned full circle. Bottom of Group B as the half-time team talks were conducted, England ended the day on top with four points.
The celebrations said it all, with players - and even coach Gary Neville - piling on to Sturridge in the corner and Rooney shouting into a camera lens. Maybe, just maybe, this is lift-off.
Another draw would have led to more ordure poured on Hodgson. He had to win. Not just for the points - a victory over Slovakia in the final group game on Monday would have been enough to reach the last-16 even with a draw - but for the mood shift.
Hodgson will also reflect on those gods, again, and how a 92nd-minute goal conceded to Russia in Marseille last Saturday was now followed by another 92nd-minute goal to change everything again.
He will also reflect on the deserved criticism he came in for after the Russia match in failing to be bold in his substitutions. He was exactly that here, although he had little choice as his team were booed off at half-time.
Hodgson will also have a small piece of history to reflect on with satisfaction. This was, remarkably, the first time that England had come from behind after trailing at the interval to win at a major championship.
It was tough for Wales, who now go to their final match against Russia still believing they have enough to go through, but as well as they tried to manage this encounter, they were not at their best in what was an exciting but not a high-grade match.
Bale's goal apart, his effect, beyond his mere presence, was not great, and although team-mate Aaron Ramsey was outstanding in midfield, there was not much threat beyond that.
This will dent rather than dash their confidence; they are having a blast, even if manager Chris Coleman's face was etched in pained disappointment afterwards. There is no need for reproach, no need for a rethink, although Wales have to work harder to get the best out of Bale, who has scored two goals but both from free-kicks.
His strike here came after a rash foul by Rooney on Hal Robson-Kanu, and Bale was always going to go for goal. It appeared he had got into England's heads and, although it was a good, dipping free-kick, it really should not have beaten Hart.
Before that, England had dominated possession, created chances - headers from Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill and one from Kane that struck the hand of Welsh defender Ben Davies, who also survived two further penalty appeals - and should have scored when Sterling reached Adam Lallana's cross in front of goal.
It was a bad day for Sterling, whose confidence, despite the work of sports psychologist Steve Peters, appears shot. It is hard to see the Manchester City forward starting against Slovakia, though, hopefully, he will remain off social media and not post again that ill-judged #TheHatedOne Instagram message.
It was tricky for Kane also, with Hodgson eventually conceding the striker was tired.
So, off both of them came. There was a palpable shift in atmosphere as Sturridge and, in particular, Vardy stood ready. Maybe it affected Wales also, because it showed the armoury the opposition had on their bench.
England were quickly level, with both strikers involved as Sturridge's cross was met by a head and Vardy turned the ball home for his fourth goals in five England games. Vardy was clearly in an offside position, but the eagle-eyed assistant referee kept his flag down because the header had come from Wales captain Ashley Williams.
England pushed on and on, so Hodgson threw those dice again, with 18-year-old Marcus Rashford, impressive once more, sent on to become his country's youngest-ever player in a major finals. Still, time was running out until Sturridge initiated a move, with the ball bouncing back for him to squeeze it off Wayne Hennessey's outstretched leg and between the goalkeeper and his near post.
"And they said we weren't passionate," declared England's official Twitter feed with the photograph of the celebrations. And with the points, they made a point. (© Daily Telegraph, London)