Muddled England give Hodgson food for thought


Lens (France) (AFP) – As the dust settled following England’s dramatic comeback victory over Wales at Euro 2016, victorious manager Roy Hodgson was left facing more questions than answers.

Daniel Sturridge’s stoppage-time goal at Stade Bollaert-Delelis in Lens on Thursday earned England a 2-1 win over their British rivals that left Hodgson’s men on top of Group B and on the cusp of the last 16.

The manner of victory, though, was muddled, England finishing the game with Sturridge, fellow goal-scorer Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford and Wayne Rooney on the pitch, yet mustering only four shots on target.

“It seemed to me that we were on the ball so much over 90 minutes, so it’s good when you’ve got a few players who can do something different around the penalty area and ask further questions of their defence,” Hodgson said.

England ended the game with an impressive attacking armada on show — Vardy leading the line, flanked by 18-year-old Rashford and Sturridge, with Rooney and Dele Alli thrusting forward from midfield.

But while England enjoyed 64 percent of possession, Wales manager Chris Coleman was justified in asserting that his goalkeeper, Wayne Hennessey, had not been obliged to pull off “save after save”.

Vardy’s 56th-minute equaliser stemmed from a mistimed attempted clearance by Wales captain Ashley Williams, whose touch unwittingly enabled the Leicester City striker to sweep the ball past Hennessey from close range.

Despite Wales sitting perilously deep at times, England toiled in their attempts to pull them out of their defensive shape and it was not until added time that the decisive moment of quality arrived.

Sturridge knocked the ball forward to Vardy, who laid it off to Alli, and though the Tottenham Hotspur midfield could not profit from his own slick turn, Sturridge burst in to beat Hennessey at his near post.

It prompted an explosion of joy on the England bench, Hodgson leaping to his feet and assistant coach Gary Neville haring down the touchline.

But throwing all the strikers on and hoping for the best is not an approach that can be relied upon to carry England deep into the tournament.

– Sterling at risk –

England are also adjusting to the fact their record scorer, Rooney, is now operating from midfield and therefore more likely to be setting up chances than putting them away.

The England captain admitted that England “have to move the ball quicker”.

Having kept faith with Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling from the 1-1 draw with Russia, only to haul them off at half-time against Wales, Hodgson has decisions to make about his starting line-up for Slovakia on Monday.

Adam Lallana advanced Liverpool team-mate Sturridge’s claim to a starting berth, saying: “He doesn’t need too many chances before he gets his name on the scoresheet.”

An unused substitute against Russia, Vardy took just 11 minutes to cancel out Gareth Bale’s free-kick opener for Wales, but he toed a diplomatic line when asked about his chances of starting in Saint-Etienne.

“At the end of the day, that’s down to the manager and what he thinks is best,” he said.

Hodgson defended Sterling, arguing that he had “interpreted the position well” against Russia and said that Kane had merely been “tired”.

A point clear of Wales and Slovakia at the group summit, England are within sight of the last 16, but with his team’s identity being forged, Hodgson may not be inclined to make wholesale changes.

“The third game was always going to be a team selection headache after we had players playing twice in a short period of time,” he said.

“It’s going to be something we’ll have to give thought to. But it would be foolish in the warm glow of a win, and feeling happy with four points, for me to make too many statements about what my plans are for Slovakia.

“We want to win that game. We’ll be working hard to try and do that.”

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