The Republic of Ireland extended a five-match unbeaten run against England that dates back to 1985, with a 1-1 draw at Wembley and in truth were not given an overly hard time by the home attack in doing so.
BBC pundit and crisp hawker Gary Lineker described England boss Roy Hodgson’s decision to revert to an orthodox 4-4-2 formation for the fixture as “a step back to the dark ages”, with his main bugbear that the setup made the Three Lions “predictable and dated”.
His statement begs the question as to whether he’s has been shunning the viewing of England matches since they moved over to ITV. Fair enough Adrian Chiles is not to everyone’s tastes, but just when did he last see this unpredictable and up-to-date national side? Le Tournoi de France?
England’s so-called match winners have seldom boasted such qualities in recent years, with Wayne Rooney’s grown-man incarnation seemingly lacking the bull-in-a-china-shop insouciance of adolescent self and Theo Walcott still only really frightening when he has 20 yards of space to run into.
Quite apart from the fact that the match was a friendly and Hodgson was entitled to give his team on-pitch experience of another potentially useful configuration, England’s current crop ultimately lack the ingenuity to make 4-4-2 an incisive formation.
David Pleat nailed the nature of the problem in saying “What England lack, and it’s easy to say this without Jack Wilshere, is a clever midfield player who can open the door: a Glenn Hoddle, a Paul Gascoigne, even a Chris Waddle”.
For two decades the national team have struggled to break down well organised teams that get men behind the ball, with many of their greatest wins during this time – the 4-1 Euro ’96 win against Holland, the 4-1 away victory in Croatia – largely the result of counter attacks.
Lineker may be right, a rigid 4-4-2 may feel like a backwards step, but it feels more like an admission of the limitations of the recent generations of English players and a reflection of a youth coaching system that prizes competitiveness over creativity.
With unimaginative England trailing their World Cup Group H rivals Montenegro by two points with four matches remaining they look somewhat short to win the group at 4/11, even if three of those four fixtures are at Wembley.
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