England’s impressive win over Montenegro on Friday has the pendulum of opinion for the national team swinging firmly over positivity, but any thing other than a win against Poland and it will be doom and gloom for Roy’s boys all over again. Even though that doesn’t mean the end of World Cup 2014 for England. Hodgson’s tenure at the helm of the English national squad has a familiar feel to that of Capello and McLaren before him. Under achieving and always simmering below par. Stuttering, with occasional glimpses of competence. In recent years England have been flat, slow and a little uninspiring, but in Hodgson’s defence he only has one competitive loss to his name, and that was a penalty shoot out against Italy in the 2012 Euro’s, and two losses total in 21 games in charge. Not a terrible record but when a third of those results were draws, it’s hardly a barn storming, all guns blazing campaign either.
Friday night at Wembley was certainly one of the highlights of Roy’s reign. More so for the professional manner in which England went about their business rather than any flamboyance or individual brilliance. The team that faced Montenegro was set up to win the game and was a far less ‘safe’ system than we may have come to expect from Hodgson. Available personnel may also have been kind to the England manager in allowing him to play an ideal three forwards behind the central striker. This fluid and mobile four in Rooney, Welbeck, & Townsend just behind Sturridge began to link and intertwine effectively the more the game progressed. Townsend offered pace and width down the right flank and Rooney and Sturridges short one touch passes began to cause the resolute and very well organised Montenegro plenty of problems around the area. The solid midfield base of Lampard & Gerrard offered experience and ball retention in abundance and with this system, and if the majority of these players can stay available for their county, England may start to look like a footballing side again. An effective system, that’s already familiar to the most of the players because of their club sides, and ‘square pegs in square holes’ are big steps forward for Hodgson’s England. There is remaining a lack of tempo that is concerning. The English league is synonymous with pace and power but this always feels lacking in the national side. When England won the ball in their own half it felt pedestrian in the moments directly after. More relief in winning possession back rather than an exploitative attacking opportunity. The inability to allow the pace and direct running of Welbeck, Townsend and Sturridge to be effective let the opposition regroup defensively and also, frustratingly, killed any tempo England may have built. Defensively England were rarely stretched, perhaps in part to the absence of Vucinic, but Montenegro’s attacking phases were dealt with effectively but with only four attempts on target, Hart may still have question marks against him.
Poland will offer England a much tougher test on Tuesday night, even on home soil. It remains to seen whether Cahill and Jagielka have the ability, and the understanding together, to deal with attackers with the quality as Lewandowski and Blaszczykowski. But if Roy’s Boys can continue to make strides forward, and implement this new system with pace and focus, then there are definitely reasons to be positive.