England boss Roy Hodgson has defended his decision to substitute Wayne Rooney after his side conceded a devastating last-gasp equaliser to draw with Russia in Marseille last night.
Rooney played in a central midfield role in a new-look formation in their opening Euro 2016 match, and impressed, spraying passes across the field and controlling the middle of the park. And with goalscorer Eric Dier tucked in behind him, Rooney was allowed to roam behind the frontline too, getting into dangerous positions on the edge of the box numerous times on an evening of frustration for the Three Lions.
Rooney off and no Vardy
Young Tottenham midfielder Eric Dier gave England the lead in the 73rd minute with an emphatic freekick goal that seemed so emphatically unlikely, but just five minutes later Hodgson decided to gamble. I didn’t have Roy as a betting man, but he took a punt with this mind-boggling substitution. With Rooney on, and Sterling and Lallana dropping from their winger roles, England had five midfielders and one striker as they looked to close the game out at 1-0. That seemed a strong enough position for us to close the game out, and still look dangerous going forward.
But Hodgson had other ideas, and a general theme of poor choices dominated the latter stages of the game, before Berezutski equalised in the 92nd minute with a looping header. Wilshere, perhaps the right man to bring on, replaced our captain. Sterling, looking tired and ineffective towards the final whistle, was the right man to come off, but James Milner?
Hodgson played a risky, defensive card when he could have stretched Russia with Jamie Vardy on the bench. And with Kane misfiring all game, Vardy’s Euro party should have started early in the second half. The Leicester striker scored 24 goals in the Premier League last season, and didnt even get a shout against a poor Russian defence, and he can play from the left, cut inside and cause problems for Smolnikov at right back. And with Kane surprising us with a lethargic, unenergetic performance, even the introduction of Sturridge would have proved a better choice than Milner. The Liverpool striker is the type of player who can create something from nothing and would have tucked away the chances that fell to Lallana and Kane. And what about Rashford? Even he would have kept us on the edge of our seat.
Kane on corners?
Yes Harry Kane had a shocker but I’d have let Hodgson off if he, at least, used him to his strengths. I do not know who to blame more, the manager or Kane himself, as to why Harry is taking corners and freekicks. Arguably the most dangerous player in the air in the England team, has scored the majority of his 25 Premier League goals from inside the box, and scored that well-taken strike against Germany from a corner just a few months ago, yet someone in that dressing room decided he should be out of the scoring picture and should take the corners, poorly taken corners too.
When you have a proven set piece taker in Rooney, why on earth is Kane even considered for corners? I had to hold back an outburst of anger everytime I saw the number 9 approach the corner flag. And what could be worse than your striker taking corners and not being in the box? Your striker taking awful corners when he should be in the box. The Spurs striker’s crosses were more like dipping and swerving shots which flew through and past the England contingent in the box and rarely threatened the Russian goal. It is the little things that make the big differences in football matches.
But you must praise at least the first half performance from England, no matter how pessimistic you are about their chances in the Euros. But what this disappointing result means is that the match against local rivals Wales has just got a whole lot bigger. Lose against an in-form Welsh side and we are in deep, deep trouble. We don’t want a repeat of the World Cup two years ago and be knocked out at the group stages. And if we do, Hodgson has to go.