England: Roy Hodgson and Team Lack Killer Instinct for Pressure Games

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England: Roy Hodgson and Team Lack Killer Instinct for Pressure Games
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Roy Hodgson and England need to find a killer instinct to claim World Cup qualification.

When Roy Hodgson was appointed as England manager 10 months ago, he was widely regarded as a safe pair of hands for the Football Association.

The public clamour for then-Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp to succeed Fabio Capello was in full throttle, but the governing body decided against the former West Ham and Portsmouth manager, who was cleared of tax evasion charges (via BBC News) hours before the Italian quit his role with the FA.

Historically, the FA has never been renowned for bringing any kind of maverick into the role of national team manager. Brian Clough was interviewed for the job in 1977 and 1982, but the authority opted for Ron Greenwood and Bobby Robson, respectively, instead.

Terry Venables was the closest the FA came to sailing near to a strong wind, but the former Tottenham and Barcelona manager left his role after Euro 96 in preparation for legal proceedings to clear his name, as former FA executive director David Davies highlighted (via Daily Mail) in 2008.

After Capello, who resigned in the wake of John Terry being stripped of the England captaincy last year (via BBC Sport), the FA needed some stability, and Hodgson proved to be a more ideal candidate than Redknapp.

Hodgson took the helm ahead of the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine and was effectively given a "free pass" by critics with little time for preparation available.

England opened with an impressive display in a 1-1 draw with France, but only a controversial decision in the final group game against Ukraine prevented the team flying home early.

It was left to Italy to finish off England's hopes in the quarterfinals, but defeat in a penalty shootout masked the fact Hodgson's team was no contest for Cesare Prandelli's men (Sky Sports).

Hodgson restored some pride to England with a 2-1 win over the Italians in a friendly in August, and a 5-0 win in Moldova in their opening World Cup qualifier in September suggested the team was on the right track.

Four days later, an impressive Ukraine were only denied three points by an 87th-minute Frank Lampard penalty at Wembley, although England had injuries and illness to contend with in their squad.

One month later, England secured another five-goal haul, this time over San Marino, but were held to a 1-1 draw in Poland. This is all sounding rather familiar, isn't it?

Fast forward to this week, where England claimed a point in Montenegro following their 8-0 mauling of San Marino.

The worrying statistic here is that England have so far failed to defeat any of their genuine competitors in Group H.

In Warsaw, England were not up against an in-form Polish side but still managed to throw away a single-goal lead provided by Wayne Rooney's first-half header from a Steven Gerrard corner when they allowed Kamil Glik to grab an equaliser with 20 minutes left.

Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Hang on. Wasn't that the same thing that happened in Podgorica? Sadly, yes. Substitute Dejan Damjanovic for Glik, and we have an exact replica.

There was one difference, however, with Hodgson using his bench in Poland to affect a result that did not come. Perhaps he considered that to be a learning process, as he offered no tactical switch to counter the persistent waves of Montenegro attacks in the second half in Podgorica.

Hodgson defended that decision by claiming he was not sure whether there was a change available that could stop the Montenegrins (via Sky Sports), even though the experienced midfield pair of Lampard and Scott Parker were on the bench.

You're always debating changes, talking with your staff. But at 1-0 we weren't 100 per cent convinced there was a change we could make to make a vast difference to what was going on.

Whether it was down to the fact we played less well or Montenegro played better, I don't know.

That seems to be a quite remarkable thing for a leading European coach to say, but Hodgson has form for hedging his bets.

When he was in charge at Liverpool, he incensed supporters by refusing to slam the door on any approach by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson for Fernando Torres (via The Guardian).

Under Rafael Benitez, Liverpool fans had become accustomed to persistent verbal jousting with the manager of their archrivals, and Hodgson's apparent acceptance of what was a potential scenario was not looked on favourably.

Hodgson is clearly a decent and respectful man, but the current England team appears to be following that lead far too closely. A lack of killer instinct has been punished throughout the World Cup qualifying campaign to date.

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The draw in Montenegro is not a bad result and one which would have been acceptable to England before the game started. It was certainly preferable to a defeat, which would have left Hodgson's team trailing the group leaders by five points. But the manner in which it was earned was barely satisfactory.

England, though, remain a strong contender, and as Hodgson rightly points out, qualification for the 2014 World Cup Finals remains in his team's hands (via BBC Sport).

Whether those hands are safe enough to actually keep hold of the ball when the pressure remains to be seen.

The stakes will rise considerably when England play their next qualifier against Moldova at Wembley on Sept. 6. By then, the Group H table could look very different, with Montenegro hosting Ukraine and Poland travelling to Moldova in June.

Hodgson and his team need to develop a deadly edge swiftly or risk an ambush ahead of their final qualifier at home to Poland on Oct. 15.

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