Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Steven Beacom: No Plan B will leave England as also-rans

England's Joleon Lescott (centre) scores the opening goal past France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris (left) during the Euro 2012 soccer championship Group D match between France and England in Donetsk, Ukraine

Solid, not spectacular. Disciplined, not dynamic. Efficient, organised and hard working. Welcome to England, Roy Hodgson style.

A bit boring it may be — Rio Ferdinand's controversial exclusion from the squad aside — but right now Hodgson's method is getting results.

Since 1966 — goodness knows what happened back then — England have entered every tournament thinking they could win it.

England expects... and all that.

This time England fans have not expected much at all.

Put that down to being constantly disappointed when a World Cup or European Championship comes around after being filled full of hope and hype by cocky players and managers who have over promised and under delivered.

Along with the realisation that England aren't as good as they think they are, optimism has been dampened by injuries to key figures and Wayne Rooney unable to play in the first two group games in Euro 2012. Most England fans thought Roy was the wrong choice to coach the side following the departure of Fabio Capello. Remember him and his £6m per year pay cheque. Real value for money!

You may recall it was suggested that with the Italian's poor grasp of English, some players found it hard to understand what he really wanted from them.

Well, on the evidence of the game in Donetsk, Hodgson has certainly got his message across.

When Hodgson was appointed, Northern Ireland defender Gareth McAuley, who played under him at WBA, told this newspaper that if the England players bought into the manager's ideas they could be successful. I'd say just about every man wearing Three Lions followed orders to the letter in the 1-1 draw with France.

Defensively England were strong bar one rare lapse from goalkeeper Joe Hart, who allowed Samir Nasri's strike from just outside the box to whizz past him at the near post.

In central midfield Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker put in serious shifts in the holding roles while on the flanks James Milner and surprise choice Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain, winning just his third cap, ran themselves into the ground keeping the team's shape in the process — tactically crucial for any Hodgson side. Up front Manchester United pair Daniel Welbeck and Ashley Young worked tirelessly and displayed some spark.

Prior to kick-off many fancied the French to win, due to the dangerous Karim Benzema in attack and their greater technical ability all over the pitch, but Les Bleus craft was matched by English graft and a point apiece was fair enough.

England should have broken the deadlock when Milner missed an open goal. Another Manchester City title winner did hit the target though, with Joleon Lescott heading home on 30 minutes from close range after Gerrard's wonderfully inviting free-kick. I guess Hodgson's only disappointment will be that his side didn't hang on to that lead with Nasri levelling just nine minutes later. You see that's the unadventurous plan for Roy. Keep things tight. Go a goal up and then see it out. Even if you concede once, you get a draw. The problem with this will obviously occur when England go behind. Does Hodgson have a Plan B? My hunch is probably not, but he does have a Plan R for Rooney available for the final group game with co-hosts Ukraine. England won't win Euro 2012 playing like they did.

To do that they would need every ounce of luck going and joy in penalty shoot-outs.

I suppose the former could happen. I'm certain the latter won't. But for once, just getting into the knockout stages is the aim and anything after that is a bonus.

Hodgson's biggest problem now may be that after the encouraging result against France, some deluded souls may start believing England could actually win the thing.

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