What We Learned From Engerland vs Hungary (2-1)

Bloody Good For A Friendly

It's all go for a whole new era of post-World Cup disappointment as Rhino and Greedy Stevie Me prepare for kick off

This was everything a friendly really needed to be, particularly when you consider how rubbish we’d been in the World Cup (which already seems like about a zillion years ago and part of our ancestral cultural past). In many ways the result was the least important thing about the whole affair, sure it was nice to see them winning again, but if that had been all that there was it would have been a very pyrrhic victory.

Initially the signs weren’t good. We had the bones of the old skool side which had done so much to destroy their claims to be the ‘golden generation’ and the absolute minimum of changes – Hart in goal, Jagielka playing in the ‘Rio’ position next to Titface, and the inexplicably not taken to South Africa duo of Adam Johnson and Theo Wallchart on the wings. You felt that if this was the team Crapolo wanted to take to Euro 2012 then he had learned next to nothing from the World Cup but had simply retreated into his shell to count his money.

We were promised a team in sackcloth, who’d been made catatonic by fear and the majesty of the new Wemberley, a set of lads who were ready to take a public whipping in the same way Titface occasionally takes bookings for the team. Instead we got a team that seemed to have been released from pressure, like a fighter who gets up having been punched in the face realising that, you know what, he was still alive and it didn’t hurt as much as he’d feared.

What we got were all those things that Engerland had seemed incapable of doing. Things like accurate passing, movement off the ball, genuinely accurate crosses from Wallchart, and at least one piece of actual positive interaction between Gerrard and Lumpy. Admittedly the latter still doesn’t suggest that there’s any realistic way these two can play together effectively, but it was a nice moment for the scrapbook. Hart looked like a solid presence in goal and Wallchart, Ashley Cole and the Johnsons provided both width and real threat down both wings (even if Glen Johnson was pretty bloody awful). But the most positive thing was that players were trying things rather than simply going for the easiest ‘pass of fear’ back to the man who gave you the ball. Sure many of those flicks and dinks didn’t come off (possibly the result of players’ unfamiliarity with one another), but they were threatening and indicated a team that was actually enjoying their football. There were some lovely moments of interplay down the wings, great close passing which threatened to pull the Hungarians’ defence apart and overall the team looked like they wanted to win, which frankly they hadn’t done throughout the World Cup safari. They looked hungry.

Typical Engerland

It really wouldn’t be Engerland without a little bit of a mess. I can’t count the number of times when Engerland have had the best part of possession and then gone a goal down, so why should this match be any different? True to form Engerland were the masters of their own misfortune as once again our defence was caught napping. Blame it on the unfamiliarity of players with one another, but Dawson’s error in letting Zoltan Gera through on goal echoed Titface’s lapse against Klose for Germany’s first goal and suggests that defensive coaching needs radical improvement under Crapolo. Admittedly Dawson did well to get back and try to clear the ball off the line and would have succeeded if only the French linesman hadn’t already given the goal.

Untypical Reaction

Normally at this point Engerland would have gone into shellshock reaction and either played all eleven men in opposition’s penalty area, or hunkered down in our own six yard box and conceded the game. Instead, in a radical change of emphasis, we calmed the game down, re-established control and got back into the game. Smart pressure from Adam Johnson on the right and Young  and Gibbs on the left put the pressure back onto the Hungarians. Johnson is fast becoming one of my favourite players, if only because he is the spitting image of Joy Division’s dead singer Ian Curtis, and the pressure he helped create opened up the centre of the pitch, allowing Zamora, who was playing the Heskey role (big striker who runs about irritating the defence without actually scoring) to, well, run about a bit and irritate the defence without actually scoring.

This in turn left space in front of the defence for Gerrard to meander into with the extraordinary result that he scored two excellent goals (note to self, this is almost as many goals as Engerland managed in total in the World Cup). And while the first was a typical Gerrard strike from outside the area, the second was the type of goal everyone wanted to see at the World Cup but didn’t, a mazey, jinky little dribble through four defenders with a sneaky toe poke at the end to beat the keeper. If it had been Messi doing it we’d never hear the end of it (admittedly, given it’s Gerrard, we’ll probably never hear the end of it either).

Overall, A Good Result, But . . .

A good game, played in the right attacking spirit, showcasing some of the array of talent at Crapolo’s disposal. The new boys and reentries done good and on the strength of this we shouldn’t have that much trouble pruning the dead wood and getting through our qualification group. That said, Hungary couldn’t have been more accommodating, playing the sort of 4-4-2 formation that no one intelligent does in international football anymore, defensive lapses show that sadly Titface’s Engerland career is far from over and Crapolo looks thoroughly clueless. But worst of all was the continued failure to bring Rooney into the game in any meaningful way. Irrespective of his position at Man U, he just isn’t working as an international striker, seeming far more effective when coming in from behind rather than leading the line. You’re left with the lingering sense that maybe, just maybe, his best years as an international player (or at least as an international striker) are well behind him. But no way is Crapolo going to grasp that nettle just yet.