Cagey Roy faces his moment of reckoning after England stutter to Poland draw
21:45 GMT, 17 October 2012
Top of the group, unbeaten in 11 games under Roy Hodgson, a point away from home, Wayne Rooney on the scoresheet again, so why did this not feel like the best of times for England
Perhaps because we can see what is coming. There is a moment of reckoning.
It may occur later in the season against Montenegro, or in the tournament itself in two summers’ time, but England cannot continue playing like this and hope to thrive.
Plenty to ponder: England manager Roy Hodgson saw his side struggle to a draw with Poland
Only one team should feel disappointed by a single point out of this game and it is the hosts.
Poland were more creative, more entertaining to watch and had the better chances. Both goals came from set-pieces but whereas this was just about all England offered, Poland were busy but wasteful with their final ball.
Hodgson’s England are famed for being hard to beat, but a better team would surely have won comfortably against them here. Poland are technically impressive, but lack a definitive finisher. Thank heavens.
When Hodgson took over, the fear was he would be a cautious coach and so it is proving. /10/17/article-2219292-158D08E7000005DC-235_634x343.jpg” width=”634″ height=”343″ alt=”Tough times: England players look dejected after Poland level the score in Warsaw” class=”blkBorder” />
Tough times: England players look dejected after Poland level the score in Warsaw
Carrick did not secure the centre defensively and his passing was inferior. Jack Wilshere cannot return soon enough; nor can Frank Lampard.
It was hardly a match worth waiting for. Those who travelled through rain to watch the game that wasn’t on Tuesday will be compensated and they would appear to have got the best of the deal.
Around 800 England fans returned to the National Stadium in Warsaw for this and they were, for the most part, a mute presence.
Loyal to the end, they know the reality. England lead Group H but that position is misleading.
Montenegro have a game in hand and it will take place at home to San Marino on November 14.
Barring a stunning upset, plague-like illness or the biggest coup at the bookmakers since the Hole In One Gang, Montenegro will top the table by Christmas.
They are the dark horses here. Montenegro have already defeated Ukraine away; the opponents England failed to beat at Wembley, and drew home and away with England in the qualifying campaign for the 2012 European Championship.
Not up to it: Michael Carrick struggled in the England midfield
It is far too early to panic, but the fact remains that after four World Cup qualifying matches, the only nations Hodgson’s England have vanquished are Moldova and San Marino, ranked 47th and 53rd out of 53 teams in Europe.
The manager might not lose, but he is hardly enjoying a winning streak, either. Carry on like this and there will be matches in which only victory will do. Being hard to beat in those will ultimately be as valuable as the ability to juggle skittles.
The one development that has gone against Hodgson is the international retirement of John Terry. Put the circumstances to one side for a moment and consider his absence, instead, purely in football terms.
There were those who claimed he would not be missed. Madness. The words of goalkeeper Joe Hart before last week’s match with San Marino were ominous.
‘Football-wise the guy is an inspiration,’ said Hart. ‘He’s a great centre half, a great servant to his country and it’s a shame we’ve lost him. It’s a big blow. He’s still got so much ability.’
San Marino were never going to expose the hole where Terry once stood, but Poland most certainly did.
At fault: Joe Hart had one of his worst games for England and was partly to blame for Poland's goal
Specifically, his absence sucked the
confidence out of Hart, who had his least convincing game in an England
shirt for some time and was partly at fault for Poland’s equaliser.
Goalkeepers like to feel safe with the men around them. The central defenders like a goalkeeper they can lean on: the relationship between Hart and Terry was crucial to England.
Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson, Liverpool stalwarts, would never have a word said against the maverick Bruce Grobbelaar in goal.
Hansen’s point was that they always knew where they stood with Grobbelaar.
‘He came for everything,’ he recalled. ‘A defender wants to know precisely where he stands and we did with Bruce.
‘If a cross came into the penalty area, get out of the way because he’s going for it. Knowing that, we could concentrate on protecting the goal, just in case. He missed the odd one, but it was worth it for the certainty.’
Stronger together: John Terry and Hart
Hart and Terry might not have had the familiarity of clubmates, but they had faith. Terry did not appear as confident with David James or Robert Green, for instance, as he did with Hart.
And it is worth remembering that Hart has lost not one, but two great central defenders: Rio Ferdinand being the other.
He knows Joleon Lescott from Manchester City — although he does not always make Roberto Mancini’s team — and Phil Jagielka has again been impressive for Everton this season but this triumvirate needs time.
Jagielka played as if under duress from his Polish relatives and, defensively, England were an accident waiting to happen: a trait inconsistent with the mantle of being hard to beat.
Ferdinand and Terry were also the best passers among England’s central defenders and that showed too on Wednesday night.
The Poles were more than happy for Jagielka and Lescott to have the ball, sensing that no good would come of it.
Ferdinand is known for his football brain, but Terry’s excellent passing is often overlooked. The toxic fall-out from his abuse of Anton Ferdinand makes him a hard player to miss, but judged purely for football reasons the void was noticeable in Warsaw.
It is hard to imagine it being very different in Podgorica, Kiev and, most worryingly, Wembley.