Friday 24 November 2017

Miguel Delaney: Tonight we saw a new Roy Hodgson - but will it lead to a new England?

LENS, FRANCE - JUNE 15: In this handout image provided by UEFA, England manager Roy Hodgson faces the media during a press conference on June 15, 2016 in Lens, France. (Photo by Handout/UEFA via Getty Images)
LENS, FRANCE - JUNE 15: In this handout image provided by UEFA, England manager Roy Hodgson faces the media during a press conference on June 15, 2016 in Lens, France. (Photo by Handout/UEFA via Getty Images)

Miguel Delaney

Roy Hodgson rectified his errors, to also ensure Joe Hart doesn’t pay for his own big mistake, and put England on the brink of qualification for the last 16 after a last-minute 2-1 win over Wales.

That was the key to this game - and could yet be the key for the side’s tournament as well as Hodgson’s entire time in charge of his country. England beating Wales might have been the natural order for so long - as emphasised by the fact the Welsh were so pained at throwing away the chance of defeating their neighbours for the first time since 1984 - but it came this time from the manager moving away from his natural game. It is not just Group B that has turned after the introductions of Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge, and then their fine interventions to bring England back from 1-0 down.

Because, even before Gareth Bale’s opener, something had seemed a little off with the English attack. Hodgson had surprisingly played the same team as against Russia and it unsurprisingly led to the exact same pattern. England were dominating possession but creating very little. That in turn created the platform for Wales and Bale to take advantage, as Hodgson again seemed so cautious, so unprepared to really make the best of the relatively promising talent available to him.

England just didn’t seem completely comfortable, but Hart didn’t seem in completely the right frame of mind either.

The goalkeeper had seemed to work himself into an unnecessary frenzy before the game, hyperactively jumping around and making such an ostentatious show of singing the national anthem, and it did raise the question over whether a goalkeeper - a position that requires such concentration - needs to be so pumped up.

Because, despite that, Hart couldn’t get his body up properly to stop Bale’s strong but not exactly testing shot. England were behind, and the XI on the pitch looked out of ideas, until Hodgson returned to the most obvious ideas: bringing on Vardy for a fatigued Kane.

It paid off. Within moments, the Leicester City striker had equalised. It also reflected his form - and the type of luck he is enjoying while on that form - that it was an Ashley Williams header that played him through while also playing him onside.

The story of Wales getting their first big win over England to also win the group had turned into another Vardy story - until Hodgson gave it a different ending.

The introduction of Vardy was just one of a series of unusually brave substitutions from the manager, including bringing on Marcus Rashford and also Sturridge, who so supremely supplied the cross for the equaliser.

The Liverpool forward’s performance was to get even better. With Wales going deeper and deeper and making even more errors, England got closer and closer, until eventually Sturridge got in to excellently slide past Wayne Hennessy.

The pressure on England instantly evaporated. They are now in a much better position.

They will surely build on that by at least getting the draw they need against Slovakia to qualify, and maybe the victory to finish first - but the latter may be dependent on Hodgson building on this second half.

He needs to be just as adventurous again, while also imposing a bit more shape on the team.

They were still ragged in that second half, although some of that might have been down to the circumstances of the game.

England have changed the circumstances of the group, and now look much less likely to go out in the group stage for the second successive tournament.

Whether they can finally do any more than that and actually reach a semi-final, though, might partly depend on whether the manager can learn the lessons of this game.

This was - at least temporarily - a new Hodgson. It remains to be seen whether it will finally be a new England.

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