For all of Hodgson’s tinkering and formation experimentation, it still feels like after two years of tests, the results are inconclusive. As far as pre-tournament fixtures go, England’s performance was about as uninspiring as it gets. The anticlimactic atmosphere was almost tangible as the Wembley crowd Mexican-waved goodbye to any optimism they’d built up ahead of Euro 2016.
So here we are again, a major tournament looms imminently and no-one, including Roy Hodgson, seems to have a clue what England’s best team is. It’s all fine and well arguing the Henderson/Wilshere/Milner debate in the pub with your mates, but you’d hope it wasn’t something the England manager was still losing sleep over at this stage. Cue yet another tetchy pre-tournament press conference, where all the focus is on whether anyone in that side has the foggiest idea of what they’re supposed to be doing.
I made a pact a few years back that I would never watch an England international friendly again – tournaments, I’m addicted – but there’s nothing more soul-destroying than suffering through 90 minutes of dreary football, completely devoid of spark or any spontaneity… why did I go back on my word? It says a lot that I spent more time staring at the damp patch on my wall than the damp pitch on the screen.
England fans were treated to the dynamic trio of Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy in a trident pronged attack – though the instrument employed more resembled a crowbar than a trident. It takes a remarkably awkward system to make an enigma like Jamie Vardy look so flat, but if Hodgson has asked Leicester’s striker to gel to England’s system then he’s excelling; the Three Lion’s performance was mind-numbing, Smalling’s 86th-minute match-winning header was the only chance of note.
“We looked good,”
No further quotes needed Roy, no-one was fooled. In the interest of preserving the optimistic nature of good-hearted English football fans, it’s better that the lowering of expectations happens now, rather than after a lacklustre performance in Marseille.
The juries out on Rooney’s position as the No10, whilst Kane and Vardy operating as split strikers left a void of any threat through the middle and Dele Alli was evicted from the role has thrived in with Spurs. It was an ugly mess. How England’s European rivals must have laughed, watching two of the Premier League’s most prolific scorers moonlighting as part-time wingers.
Nobody was expecting or even demanding a rip-roaring send-off before the team’s departure for France, in fact a glimmer of hope is all England fans would have needed to head into Euro 2016 with spirits high. Instead, everyone was dismayed by the frankly awkward nature of England’s playing style. The positive spin on the night’s proceedings is that there is nothing better than a winning habit and technically, England will travel to France having won their three preparatory fixtures – scores are remembered, performances not so much.
England’s build up to Euro 2016 feels less like the excitement preparing to pop a bottle of champagne, rather the stomach-churning feeling of anxiety before ripping off a plaster – just make it as smooth and as painless as possible, Roy.