Tuesday 21 November 2017

Hodgson’s England fail to raise the roof

Poland 1 England 1

England's Wayne Rooney celebrates his goal against Poland during their World Cup 2014 qualifying soccer match at the National Stadium in Warsaw October 17, 2012. REUTERS/Darren Staples (POLAND - Tags: SPORT SOCCER ENVIRONMENT)
England's Wayne Rooney celebrates his goal against Poland during their World Cup 2014 qualifying soccer match at the National Stadium in Warsaw October 17, 2012. REUTERS/Darren Staples (POLAND - Tags: SPORT SOCCER ENVIRONMENT)

Sam Wallace

After the rain came the pain, and for Roy Hodgson the kind of uncertain, indecisive, fragmented England performance that has haunted the national team down the years.

It took a delay of 20 hours for this game finally to kick-off but when it did there were decades of English underachievement recognisable in a dreadful effort by Hodgson's players.

It was Wayne Rooney who gave his side a largely undeserved lead in the first half but he struggled to the extent that Hodgson eventually replaced him as the pressure grew on England after the break.

Poland equalised through the defender Kamil Glik with 20 minutes to play but really they deserved more.

After a humiliating evening for Polish football the night before, with the roof that would not shut, Poland attacked through an English midfield that was porous to say the least. The panic even stretched to the normally reliable Joe Hart who came for, but did not reach, the corner from which Glik scored.

There were very few performances that stood out for Hodgson's team. Phil Jagielka was one of the better performers, in spite of a wobble at the start of the second half. Steven Gerrard drove his team on in awkward circumstances but it was hard to deny that by the end, it was the away team who looked much more relieved with the draw.


The wider picture for Hodgson is that it makes qualification from Group H even more tricky. His team have eight points from four games and are top for now but come their next qualifier against San Marino in March they will surely be behind Montenegro, currently second, who play the Sammarinese next month.

The tarpaulin roof over the National Stadium in Warsaw stayed in place despite a day which featured scarcely a single cloud in the sky. Underfoot the pitch was playable but soggy and it appeared to cut up easily but there was a game on, and that was more than could be said for Tuesday.

The home team started strongly and they dominated much of the first half but they departed the pitch at half-time a goal behind, scored by Rooney from one of England's few sustained attacks. It had been a weak half from Hodgson's men, plagued by uncertain passing in midfield and a tendency for Rooney to get too far away from Jermain Defoe, who he was supposed to be supporting.

In his 4-2-3-1 formation, Hodgson deployed Tom Cleverley on the left side of the attacking three and it did not help the Manchester United man that he was up against arguably Poland's most significant attacking threat. Cleverley struggled to get into the play and, given Kamil Grosicki's pace and directness, he was not much help to Ashley Cole behind him.

Glen Johnson was having one of those games when he finds himself out of position or, at the very least, the wrong side of his man in dangerous moments. In the centre, Robert Lewandowski looked like an attacking threat.

Rooney was not having his best game either, in spite of the goal, the evidence in a misplaced pass that ceded possession and led to a Lewandowski break down the left. Poland never quite created the ideal chance but a combination of Ludovic Obraniak and Grosicki played in Lukasz Piszczek on 13 minutes and Joe Hart had to come off his line to block the ball.

In bursts of play Steven Gerrard imposed himself on the game, as he can do, and it was the captain who won the corner from which Rooney scored.

When Gerrard played the ball in from England's left, Rooney, unmarked, was able to twist and the ball struck his shoulder and out the reach of Przemyslaw Tyton in the Poland goal.

Even after their goal, England had struggled to gain a foothold in the game and were sloppy in possession. After the break, with Poland coming at them with greater confidence, Hodgson's team fell further and further back.

They switched to 4-1-4-1 with Rooney on the left side of the midfield. Defoe was an isolated, lone figure left to chase the long balls smashed out of defence and midfield in desperation. The quality of their performance deteriorated and a goal from Poland felt inevitable. Before it came, Piszczek had a shot just wide of the near post on the right side.

Poland were not quite creating the number of chances proportionate to their dominance of the game. They were fortunate when Glik handled the ball on the left side of the area that England did not make more of the opportunity. Coming in at the back post, Defoe got a poor contact on Gerrard's free-kick.

Soon after Hodgson had sent on Danny Welbeck for Defoe, England had another chance to score. James Milner intercepted the ball in his own half and pushed forward, picking out Welbeck's run in the left channel. Tyton did enough to push Welbeck wide but, from his cut-back, Rooney's shot was well over.

Then, on 70 minutes, came the equaliser, a relatively simple header for the defender Glik from Obraniak's corner. Hart and Joleon Lescott both came for the ball and Glik out-jumped them both to head the ball into an unguarded corner of the net.

Under that level of pressure, it looked like England would gladly accept a draw. Rooney was substituted shortly afterwards and replaced with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain whose presence, at least, gave England some pace on their wings. Afterwards, the England players went over to their forlorn supporters high up in the second tier to thank them for staying another day.

There will be a few of those hardy souls wondering why they bothered. (© Independent News Service)

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