England manager Roy Hodgson has jumped to the defence of his team in the wake of Wednesday's 1-0 friendly victory over Norway, insisting that unflattering statistics only tell half the tale of their win.
The Three Lions attracted a largely negative response from a drab result in front of just 40,181 spectators at Wembley. The Daily Mail's Sami Mokbel provides Hodgson's reply upon being quizzed about England's lack of a goal threat:
Two shots on target? Don't give me that one. Two shots? What about all the ones they threw themselves in front of... don't hit me with statistics. When we had that much possession, and you talk about two shots on target?
We're not scoring a lot of goals, but we're not playing against teams who come out against us a lot. This team will score goals. I thought the performance was quite good. I was pleased with the first half, we probed well with good movements.
The helmsman is attempting to revamp his side following the disappointment of their 2014 World Cup group-stage exit. On Wednesday, Fabian Delph and Calum Chambers received their first England caps, while John Stones made his first international start.
Despite any negative connotations permeating from the result, Hodgson went on to anticipate that Monday's Euro 2016 qualifier against Switzerland, a far more important fixture, won't be as simple:
Switzerland will need to beat us, if anything, we might be Norway on Monday. We might be pushed back and can't attack and dominate for long periods, as we did today. I don't know. I don't think the mind-set of the Swiss team, playing us in Basel, will be the same as the mind-set of the Norwegians.
For the most part, results in friendlies aren't considered essential, even to the world's top teams, as long as the performance itself is considered to be encouraging.
However, as The Telegraph's Jeremy Wilson suggests, a vacant and flat Wembley Stadium will be among the national team's chief concerns:
Jeremy Wilson @JWTelegraph
Record low England crowd at Wembley...can Roy Hodgson revive interest in the national team? http://t.co/GqHG46fvdi9/3/2014, 11:14:02 PM
Jeremy Wilson @JWTelegraph
No anger in the air at Wembley tonight towards Roy Hodgson after the World Cup, just apathy...9/3/2014, 10:53:41 PM
Hodgson might draw ire for England's absence of attacking motivation, but there were better statistics to be drawn from the Norwegian encounter.
As WhoScored shows us, while only two of England's 14 scoring attempts found the target, the visitors were restricted to just two attempts in general, winning just three corners and taking 37 percent possession.
The natural reaction in such matters is often to focus upon the bad, but from those figures we can see England are at least doing some things right, even if not through the most glamorous means.
Hodgson also heaped praise on the performance of Raheem Sterling, who won the penalty Wayne Rooney would then tuck away to give the home side their 1-0 margin:
"When Sterling moved into the centre he showed the full range of his dribbling ability, so it's nice to know we have these options and won't be totally restricted to one way of playing," Hodgson stated.
Leading up to the World Cup, there was fierce debate surrounding Sterling's place in the squad and whether it was he or Rooney who deserved the No. 10 role.
Daniel Storey of Sky Football believes Wednesday provided an answer to that question, going as far as to call the 19-year-old Sterling England's finest asset:
Daniel Storey @danielstorey85
That was Raheem Sterling's fifth England start, and he's now our best player. My player summaries for @F365. http://t.co/D0LdiI9naa9/3/2014, 10:17:05 PM
The teenager is more of a natural out wide than Rooney but has come to show incredible promise since adapting his game to a more centralised style, for both club and country.
Although it was the Manchester United man who netted from 12 yards, Sterling may now emerge as the outright option in that position, his young age being a factor as England plan for 2016 and beyond.
Speaking to ITV Sport (h/t ESPN FC's Kevin Palmer) after his most recent outing, Rooney was humble in applauding Sterling for his efforts, despite their competition for similar roles in the squad:
"He is a threat. He takes the ball, he runs at people. It doesn't always come off, but he is an exciting player and makes things happen. He is great to play with."
The captain went on to admit his own performance could have been better, but noted the need for squad-wide improvements:
I thought I could have done better. I think we all could have done better. But this was the first game after the World Cup and it was important that we got the victory going into the game on Monday.
On Monday, England receive a much bigger test in competitive circumstances, but again Hodgson will not be too bothered with the scoreline, as long as the result is the same.
Statistics will always be used to attack the cautious-first boss, but the only one he will care about is the scoreline as England begin their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.
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