Saturday, 12 October 2013

England 4 Montenegro 1

This was the most nervous I have been whilst watching an England game for a very long time, but after some alarms and nervy passages, the victory seemed relatively comfortable in the end.

England's brisk start, as embodied by the positive runs of Andros Townsend, turned out to be illusory.  The intent was not really matched by end-product, and soon a measure of frustration and impatience entered into England's play, and the crowd became restless. That all too familiar malaise of the national team, the grip of fear and anxiety, has not been remedied.

The widespread wisdom was that an opening goal by England would dissipate much of the tension. In the event, this did not occur. Even after Wayne Rooney's effort early in the second period, England were ill-at-ease.  Even the comical second goal did not fully liberate England.  Watching them is seldom a straightforward or serene business, and the Montenegrins, who showed occasional glimpses of real quality, duly pulled one back!

At times, another old England failing showed itself; the inability to control proceedings by retaining possession in order to soak up pressure and draw the sting from teams. The initiative is surrendered too regularly for comfort.

Andros Townsend really deserved his goal, having shown enterprise and drive all evening, and crucially lacking the inhibitions of some of his colleagues.

This match did throw up some intriguing questions about the shape of the England team going forward. The Rooney-Welbeck-Sturridge axis shows genuine promise, with the kind of interplay and pace which is required to unlock defences at international level. If Townsend manages to consolidate his position, is it not desirable in this system for a proper holding midfielder to be introduced to this system of play?  This would help to provide a more durable platform for the attackers. In addition, it would give some insurance in a defensive sense.  Whatever our technical deficiencies may have been in recent decades, England have usually been quite solid at the back, giving away comparatively few goals. The current occupants of the back five do not quite inspire such confidence.

I would be tempted to be more radical still, and have perhaps two "holding" players in the middle of the field, and leave out one or two prestigious names to accommodate this innovation.  I can't see Roy Hodgson doing this, though. The England coach should be applauded for playing such an adventurous formation against Montenegro.  Time will tell whether he will persist with that formation, but it does have potential.

Of more immediate concern is the match against Poland on Tuesday evening. It should be monumentally nerve-racking!

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