Sport | England young guns make positive start

Alan Partridge once said: “To the untrained eye, this could look like it’s rubbish and I haven’t bounced back.”

They may not have ‘bounced back’ with their victory in Basel but it was far from rubbish from Roy Hodgson’s men. With the nation’s regard for their football team supposedly at an all-time low, England delivered a confident performance in a pulsating international fixture.

Had Joe Hart not jammed out a defiant right foot to deny Haris Seferovic a goal in the first half, it could have been an entirely different outcome. Nonetheless, Phil Jones saved face after gifting the home team the ball not far from goal, and England survived until the second half.

It was in the latter 45 minutes that England’s tactics bore fruit; Raheem Sterling was always going to be crucial to achieving a result in St. Jakob-Park, and his pace kick-started two wonderfully crafted counter-attacking goals. Danny Welbeck converted both to lock up the three points.

There were still errors and weaknesses, this being England after all. However, considering Switzerland’s more than justified status as ninth best team in the world, supporters of the Three Lions could not have asked for much more.

It was Wayne Rooney’s first competitive game wearing the captain’s armband, and he will be satisfied with the unity of the players who looked so lifeless against Norway last week. Rooney’s individual performance was unspectacular, but efficient enough.

The real stars of the show came in the form of Sterling and Welbeck. The pair constantly troubled the Swiss defence with a combination of raw pace and intelligent running. The new Arsenal signing should have presented the onrushing Rooney or Sterling with a first half tap-in when England bore down on goal. Undeterred, Welbeck continued to drag defenders to and fro, and then took his chances in front of goal.

Roy Hodgson’s diamond formation seemed to work a treat, but Fabian Delph easily could have had two yellow cards inside the first ten minutes for two rash challenges. The Aston Villa midfielder managed to eventually compose himself on his first international start, and he grew into the game with poise.

The defence will always worry the manager regardless of selection. Gary Cahill had a terrific outing, capped by a last-ditch clearance when a Swiss equaliser looked certain. However, defensive partner Jones was at times hapless, and England are crying out for an effective, natural right back. John Stones has great potential, but his deployment there underlines the dearth of quality in that position.

The midfield diamond did its job in containing Switzerland but Jack Wilshere, as he so often has been for England, was woefully inadequate. Jordan Henderson, and later James Milner’s performances, demonstrated the fine art of playing it simple. Wilshere is so often the ‘Hollywood’ player, in the sense that the vast majority of his ideas never actually produce anything.

After two wins with no goals conceded, it is perhaps churlish to take issue with squad selection, but a lot of players can feel hard done by for their lack of recognition. Ryan Shawcross, Curtis Davies, Tom Huddlestone, Lee Cattermole and Mark Noble will not get the pulses racing, but consistently good club performances mean they deserve more careful consideration from Hodgson.

None of the great problems of the English national team have been solved, but even after one game qualification looks in the bag. Such is the nature of this Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, when even a serious wobble would still most likely mean England fans can start looking at hotels in Lyon, Paris and Marseille.

If England can bounce back, this was a very good way of starting that process. After collecting all the points in Basel, the question is now whether Roy Hodgson is capable of moulding a side that can recover and progress after such a woeful major tournament display.

 

David Cowlishaw

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