England vs. Montenegro: Roy Hodgson Fails to Act as England Disappoint Yet Again
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Well, that was interesting.
After a confident win over Brazil last month and a thoroughly comprehensively "Attack vs. Defence" training ground dismissal of San Marino last Friday, England made perfectly sure we were all brought back down to Earth last night. I'm sure all Three Lions' fans would agree, it was a familiar feeling of disappointment.
England were good in the first half. They retained the ball well, looked solid at the back and looked a threat going forward. Inspired by the dynamic Wayne Rooney, they could have been two or three up at the break.
After the interval however, it all went a bit...well..."England-y" (for want of a better word).
What Went Wrong?
To state the blinking obvious, coach Roy Hodgson acted too slowly. After what you'd imagine was an almighty tongue-lashing from their fiery head coach Branko Brnovic, Montenegro came out rejuvenated for the second half. England, however, clearly planned during halftime to perform their best impression of a doormat.
It is something that has happened time and time again. Nerve-shredding second halves followed by a feeling of abject distress is what I've come to expect.
Last night will not go down as one of Tom Cleverley's better performances. The young midfielder has a potentially terrific future ahead of him, but I'm sure I wasn't alone in screaming for Hodgson to kindly (the words I used weren't really that kind) remove him from the pitch around the 50th minute onward.
When England were on top in the first half, Cleverley performed well. But as the game was getting away from England, the Manchester United midfielder seemed determined in getting further away from the game. At times in the second half he was so far toward the outskirts of the match that he could have easily started house-hunting in the suburbs of Podgorica.
Whilst Cleverley was out shopping for Montenegrin Real Estate, Joleon Lescott and Chris Smalling were keeping themselves busy performing England's trademark move of dropping as deep as physically possible into their own half. Steven Gerrard and Michael Carrick were not too far behind them (or too far ahead to be technically accurate).
James Milner and Danny Welbeck, in the meantime, were admirably tracking back to help their full-backs, but in doing so they left Rooney hopelessly isolated up front. Rooney, refreshingly, managed not to kick out at anyone. Maybe the rumours are true and he really has grown up at last.
After the painfully inevitable equaliser, Hodgson finally acted. Cleverley was replaced by Ashley Young, who immediately offered far more of an attacking threat down the left-hand side.
Welbeck was pushed central to combine with Rooney, and England suddenly looked a whole lot better. But after one or two decent chances, England had left it too late and the game eventually ended up finishing 1-1.
At the start of the night, most England fans probably wouldn't have minded a point. But it was the second-half collapse, which was so much more disappointing than the result. It is amazing that it is still distressing to see something that I should have come to expect, having seen it so many times before.
It is just my innocent naivety of being an fan I guess, because England have been performing this disappearing act in the second halves of games for more than a decade now.
What Has Always Gone Wrong
I do remember Euro '96 and France 98, but I was slightly too young at the time to acknowledge anything other than bright colours, loud noises and a passionate desire that I didn't fully understand to beat Germany and Argentina.
So excuse me for only referencing Euro 2000 onward for games I have witnessed in which England perform their, near fascinating, ability to throw away advantages and deteriorate during the second half of important matches.
During Euro 2000, England spectacularly capitulated from 2-0 up against Portugal (who are a running theme in this segment) and from 2-1 against Romania. Something similar happened from 1-0 up against Brazil at the 2002 World Cup, and this was followed by back-to-back heartbreaks against Portugal in 2004 and 2006. All were different circumstances, all ending with the same result.
2010 was slightly different in that England was equally bad in both halves against Germany, but 2011, last time they played Montenegro, saw the trend continue.
At the halfway mark in that game in Podgorica, England comfortably led 2-0. The club then somehow conspired to throw away a position of emphatic dominance, letting Montenegro get a point from the match. Luckily, England only needed a draw that night, but only England could make that much of a meal of it.
Since Hodgson took over second-half capitulations have approached something of an epidemic. During last summer's European Championships, England excruciatingly faded in second halves against France, Ukraine and Italy. Since then it has happened away in Poland and now Montenegro. The stress of it all has probably taken years off my life.
Learning From Past Mistakes
Is there a running theme in that England's last four managers (purposely not including Steve McClaren in this) Kevin Keegan, Sven-Goran Erikksen, Fabio Capello and now Roy Hodgson are all incapable of adapting to the second half of a football match?
Whether it is a reluctance or an inability to do so, it is something that needs to change, and change fast if England don't want to miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of a World Cup in Brazil. Hodgson's system in the first half dealt perfectly with Montenegro, but as soon as Montenegro changed, England failed to match them. It was worrying to say the least.
During the recent encounter between Real Madrid and Manchester United, we saw how brilliantly Jose Mourinho took advantage of Nani's sending off.
The circumstances changed, so Mourinho immediately threw on Luka Modric to utilize the extra space that had appeared in the centre of the pitch, helping Real to stretch United and take charge of the game. This is obviously an extreme example, but adapting to different scenarios during a game is something England fail at time and time again. Hodgson should have taken note.
The England manager didn't need to make a substitution right away. His side were well on top in the first half, and they could have been two or three up. There was no reason for him to think that they would fade so badly after the interval.
However, after several minutes of the first half, it did not take a genius to see that something needed to be done.
Hodgson has shown an ability to learn from previous failings since Euro 2012, he has changed systems from game to game when previous ones were not working, but he now needs the confidence in himself to tinker with the side on a minute-by-minute basis.
England need to learn to be more adaptable, or this second half epidemic is going to continue, and I'm not totally sure my nerves can continue to take it.
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