When answering this question the average Englishman is probably in the following school of thought.
He will be looking at the cities which will host the Cricket next summer, and look to buy himself grandstand tickets. He will also be thinking about becoming the butt of his Scottish mate’s jokes, which are shite at the best of times but will now hit an all time low. He will however take solace in the fact that Ireland and Wales are still terrible at all sports except Rugby, in which case England are still better. His mood will worsen however when he finds out that Team GB’s 100m relay team is slower than the best 4 runners out of Fat Camp.
The fact is, England are in trouble, but I’m going to perform a partial U-Turn of my previous article.
Is It Simple Steve’s Fault?
For those of you who read my article about fickleness (It’s a Fickle Old Game) you will understand that I am a bit of a fan of Steve McLaren. But I think that maybe he might have royally cocked up back in the USSR.
Firstly, let’s pick apart the England team that played in Moscow.
Goalkeeper: I’ve never been a big fan of Paul Robinson. His overall shot stopping has never been too good and he very rarely commands the box in a way which instils the defence with confidence. Scott Carson or Robert Green should have been given a chance.
Defence: My only problem with the defence was Joleon Lescott. Going forward he’s the dog’s bollocks; going back he’s utter bollocks. Nick Shorey should have played as he is a proper left back who can marshal the touchline. Other than that, spot on.
Midfield: The absence of Beckham meant that very few decent balls were put in the box. Also the characteristic that is most worth noting about David is the fact that he can stick to that touchline and that he can stretch play with his laser-like passing. We had Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joe Cole and neither were suitable to play against the Russian 3-5-2. Shaun was too slight to play against the Berezutskys, and Joe cuts inside too often. You need people who can play crosses from deep against a 3-5-2, as there are more spaces in the areas between the flanks of the boxes and the halfway line.
As soon as Stuart Downing came on we had far more balls in the box as he and Gareth Barry were able to sit back in that area. I would have definitely played Downing on the left, and probably would have played SWP on the right, just because of his form against Estonia and the other Internationals and also with club form. However, with the beauty of hindsight, I would have liked to have seen how David Bentley would’ve done on the right, or even doing the unthinkable and shifting Steven Gerrard to the right and bringing in another centre-mid to hold up the midfield.
Forwards: Rooney and Owen. Only criticism is that, apart from the goal, Owen looked out of his depth against the Berezutsky twins, both of whom were giants at centre half. But at the time, I would have played them both, as they have found some form in recent weeks.
My main gripe about selection is about the wingers though. We needed people who could give us a genuine outlet on the wing and give us width. We didn’t have that. When selection is your problem, it’s down to the manager. We lost a game we should have won, and that is unforgiveable.
A Case for the Defence of Mr. McClaren
There were however, other factors in this defeat that were beyond the control of Simple Steve.
Firstly, the penalty. Rooney’s challenge was clearly outside the area, and therefore would have been a free-kick, if anything. In my opinion it was a nothing challenge and any ref worth his salt would have just let it slide. It was a nonsensical decision in every sense which was NOT McLaren’s fault.
Secondly, our captain, Steven Gerrard. I watched this match down the pub, and we all said the same thing in unison: ‘You’ve got legs so f***ing use them!’
I have never seen such a sluggish performance from a midfielder famed for his tireless work rate and engine. He couldn’t pass, didn’t burst from midfield, he didn’t inspire those around, he was awful. Again though, NOT McLaren’s fault.
However it’s debatable whether these two factors outweigh the initial problem of the poor selection. I don’t think they do, and I think the Mac was wrong. The main thing that has annoyed me about the Russia game though is the way we have all turned on McClaren once again. We’re calling for a manager to be sacked at the end of the qualifying campaign, but what do we do if Yossi Benayoun and the boys do a number over on the Soviets, and we do go through? Does he still get the sack?
Let’s just do the right thing for now at least and lay off McLaren until after the campaign has ended, and get behind the boys when they play Russia in Tel-Aviv. And also get behind England when Croatia come to Wembley.