Old Failings Could Force England in to the World Cup Play-Offs

Sam Pilger@sampilgerContributing Football WriterMarch 27, 2013

The England captain Steven Gerrard admitted England stopped playing in the second half of their 1-1 draw with Montenegro
The England captain Steven Gerrard admitted England stopped playing in the second half of their 1-1 draw with MontenegroMichael Regan/Getty Images

Put away the bunting, cancel the open top bus tour for July 2014, and tell the Palace those knighthoods and MBEs won’t be needed after all. England won’t be winning the World Cup in Brazil next summer. 

But surely that was obvious long before last night’s 1-1 draw with Montenegro in their World Cup qualifier. So why this sense of indignation and outrage from England and their fans? 

Last night simply told us what we already know: England are an average team who quite clearly don’t have enough exceptional players to prosper at next year’s World Cup finals, and at the moment their participation in the tournament is far from guaranteed. 

At half-time leading 1-0 after a largely impressive display maybe some England followers could begin to fool themselves, but in the second half all their old failings were on display. 

This was arguably England’s worst 45 minutes of football since some of the horror shows at the 2010 World Cup finals. 

We already know Roy Hodgson is a solid, but ultimately safe and uninspiring character, who has nothing in his track record to suggest he can radically transform England. 

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Last night in the second half when England were under pressure but still holding on to their lead, Hodgson should have made a substitution to halt Montenegro’s new found confidence. 

But he did nothing, and when he finally reacted and sent on Ashley Young it was too late and Montenegro had already equalised. 

The England players were fading, they needed change, but Hodgson dithered for too long. It is not enough at international level to react to events, you need to predict them, to be ahead of the curve. 

The England captain Steven Gerrard, who didn’t have one of his best games last night, admitted, “We stopped playing after the break for 20 to 30 minutes and you can’t afford to do that away from home.” 

There was a familiar lack of control and passing in midfield. But we shouldn’t be shocked, this failing goes back decades.

Michael Carrick is a fine player, consistently brilliant for Manchester United, and he showed glimpses of that form last night, but there is a reason he has only won 27 caps since making his debut 12 years ago: he doesn’t assert himself enough in international football. 

Tom Cleverley is an enigma. Obviously valued by both Sir Alex Ferguson and Roy Hodgson, he clearly has potential, but regularly fails to convince, and it still isn’t clear where is his best position. 

Where does this leave England? They should be more than a little concerned. At the moment they trail Montenegro by two points, which could be five in June if they overcome Ukraine at home.  

England have the advantage of playing three of their final four games at Wembley, but the prospect of being forced to go in to the lottery of the playoffs remains very real.