Poland 1 England 1: Lessons as the Three Lions seal a point in Warsaw
Poland 1 England 1: What lessons did we learn after the Three Lions battled to an unconvincing point in Warsaw?
Jagielka and Lescott a shaky centre-half pairing
With John Terry’s retirement from international football and Rio Ferdinand’s continued absence from Roy Hodgson’s England plans, Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott appear to be the preferred centre-half pairing. The duo forged a fruitful partnership at Everton which ultimately persuaded Manchester City to part with £22m to bring the former Wolverhampton Wanderers defender to the Etihad Stadium in 2009. Perhaps with their former double act at Goodison Park in mind, Hodgson continues to persevere with Jagielka and Lescott ahead of Chelsea defender Gary Cahill, but at times against Poland, the pair looked rather unsteady, particularly the City defender. In the 43rd minute, Kamil Grosicki managed to streak past a sluggish Lescott but fired wide, while minutes later, Robert Lewandowski exposed the centre-half’s lack of pace, with Glen Johnson on hand to halt the Dortmund striker’s run and rescue England. Lescott, who was recently dropped by City manager Roberto Mancini, also played a part in Poland’s leveller, when Kamil Glik out-jumped the Citizens star and directed a thumping header into the net with Joe Hart stranded. Furthermore, Jagielka and Lescott also lack the ball-playing skills of Ferdinand and Terry which heaped further pressure on Michael Carrick and Steven Gerrard to create openings for an already narrow England side. It is time for Hodgson to tinker with his centre-half pairing, with Cahill waiting in the wings and Chris Smalling and Phil Jones to return from injury.
England’s left-hand side exposed by Piszczek
Ashley Cole’s ill-advised and ill-timed Twitter rant directed at the FA earlier this month meant the Chelsea defender had to wait for his 99th cap until the World Cup qualifier in Warsaw. Everton’s Leighton Baines has impressed for club and country in 2012 and the 27-year-old is pushing Cole for the left-back berth in Hodgson’s side. The former Arsenal defender returned to the starting line-up against Poland after Baines had deputised against San Marino, but he struggled to contain Poland’s energetic right midfielder Lukasz Piszczek. Cole will point to a lack of protection, with Tom Cleverley starting in left midfield before relinquishing the role to Rooney, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain deployed for the last 15 minutes. Poland sensed this was England’s weakness and looked to target Cole at regular intervals throughout an uncomfortable 90 minutes for the Blues star. Going forward, it also left England looking distinctly narrow with the unimaginative James Milner patrolling the right wing, and Cleverley and Rooney struggling to make an impact on the opposite side.
Rooney eyes Charlton’s goal-scoring record
Rooney’s brace against San Marino edged the Manchester United striker into fifth place on England’s all-time goal scorers list, behind Michael Owen, Gary Lineker, Jimmy Greaves and Sir Bobby Charlton. The 26-year-old made it 32 goals for the Three Lions with a timely header against Poland to hand Hodgson’s men a 31st-minute lead. Perhaps inspired by Robin van Persie’s shoulder goal in a 2-1 victory over Cluj in the Champions League a fortnight ago, Rooney fractionally mistimed his header but still managed to make contact with Steven Gerrard’s corner, using his shoulder to direct the ball past Poland goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton. In truth, it epitomised Rooney’s first half as the Red Devils striker looked off the pace with a series of sloppy passes. Rooney’s struggles continued into the second half when substitute Danny Welbeck showed superb composure after beating the goalkeeper to square a pass to his team-mate. But the former Everton man scooped his left-footed finish hopelessly over the crossbar with the goal at his mercy. Unsurprisingly, Hodgson decided to relieve the toiling England front-man with 17 minutes remaining.
England far from assured World Cup spot
England’s point in Warsaw leaves them top of Group H by a point from Montenegro and Ukraine, although the latter pair have both played a game less than Hodgson’s men. For the 1966 World Cup winners, it was an opportunity missed to really exert their authority on the group and move four points clear, with Montenegro set to play San Marino on 14 November and almost certainly move into pole position to qualify for Brazil. Although England performed admirably at Euro 2012 following Hodgson’s late appointment in May and the lingering John Terry saga, there appears to have been little improvement from the thoroughly disheartening quarter-final defeat by Italy. The Three Lions still struggle to keep hold of possession, even when ahead, leading to inevitable periods of pressure on Hart’s goal and inevitably the occasional defensive lapse. Next up for Hodgson’s side will be friendlies against Sweden and Brazil either side of Christmas, and a chance for the England boss to further assess the options at his disposal.