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Thursday, 30 May 2013

England vs Ireland - What A Waste Of 90 Minutes

Without being too harsh too early, my expectations for this game were beyond low, and I highly doubt that I was on my own. To start with England aren’t normally much fun to watch at the best of times, let alone in an end of season friendly where even the players look like they can’t be bothered.  I know we were all supposed to be celebrating Ashley Cole’s 100th cap (It was his 102nd appearance by the way) but I didn’t really care what happened.

Friendly matches should be about trying new players, new systems and new ideas but it seems England always seem compelled to do the opposite. They lined up in a 4-4-2 formation with the likes of Lampard, Rooney, and Johnson in the side, what was Roy Hodgson going to learn by doing this? Absolutely nothing. Daniel Sturridge got a chance to show what he can do from the start, but even that was only because pretty much everyone else is injured. The only thing that was new into the team was the kit, and even that wasn’t original. I think it’s fair to say the designers lloked to Munich for inspiration.
12 minutes in and England were 1-0 down.  A Seamus Coleman cross from the right was met by Shane Long’s head sending the ball into the corner of the net. Glenn Johnson had tracked Long’s run across the box but instead of challenging for the cross he just proceeded to play him on side. England’s central defenders were missing with Gary Cahill marking thin air, jumping up and heading thin air, in fact the only thing he made contact with was the Wembley pitch when he fell on it.

Was this to be the turning point, would going a goal down spark England to life? No, not quite. The response may have been pretty limited but it did eventually result in a goal. On 22 minutes a Sturridge cross came in from the left which wasn’t dealt with by the Irish central defence allowing Lampard in to poke the ball home from 6 yards out, it was his 29th goal for his country. But that was about as good as it got England, as they stifled themselves with a total lack of fluidity and cohesion.
The start of the 2nd half was marked by the return to the international stage of Ben Foster, making his 1st international appearance since the back end of 2010. Phil Jones also came on at right back and was one of the few in white to make at least some sort of positive impression. With Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain wide there should have at least been potential for some attacking intent, but instead of a sustained attack all we got were glimpses. There were a couple of good runs from Walcott and despite the fact that he isn’t the most gifted of footballers his pace will always cause problems for the opposition. He just wasn’t used enough. But for me it is Oxlade-Chamberlain that is the most frustrating.  To start with he isn’t really a winger but the main strength of his game is his ability to run at defenders with pace and beat them, he has a trick as well. It’s just a shame he doesn’t seem to want to do this often enough. When he 1st came on the scene and when he broke into the Arsenal 1st team he used to do this all the time, now he seems unsure when he gets the ball, the curse of the England shirt has struck again.

England will now head off to Brazil for a game against the seleção on Saturday night, where they will try and prove that the win in February wasn’t a fluke. In that game in February England actually looked like they were making some progress. They weren’t playing the most entertaining football but tactically the team were moving forwards, the midfield 3 was starting to work, there at least appeared to be a little bit of hope. But on last night’s evidence Hodgson seems to have taken a huge step backwards. I don’t expect to see miracles, the players aren’t good enough, but just an end to the predictability would be nice. As I said at the outset friendlies should be used as an opportunity to try new things but all we learned last night was that 4-4-2 still doesn’t work and playing in a German inspired kit won’t make you play like them. Instead of tactical innovation expect to see England in a Spanish inspired red and blue number by the next World Cup. But whatever happens one thing is clear. Last night wasn’t good enough.

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