Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

England fans show disgust at half-empty Wembley

No spark. No creativity. No goals. Just a final flurry of boos.

Same old England really as Fabio Capello's side spluttered to a goalless draw against little Montenegro at Wembley.

True, Montenegro were stubborn. They denied England rhythm and tempo. They were not shy of committing the odd foul either.

But they are a nation with a population the size of Leeds, with no stars and no egos. And England simply did not have the wit to find a way through them.

There was the odd England bright spot. Ashley Young, starting from the left, showed glimpses of how pace from midfield can damage defences, one mazy run in the first half beating three defenders before he was unceremoniously hacked down. Another in the second unfortunately culminating in a dive Tom Daley would have been proud of. Young was duly booked.

Adam Johnson, too, showed he is here for the long haul. The Manchester City star has the ability to beat his man in the tightest of spots and good pace to go with a splendid work ethic.

But where was the nous? Where was the spark? Where was the imagination needed to break down an organised Montenegro defence?

England have never been very good at that. Give them a Premier League-style tear-up, an end-to-end match of attack and counter attack and they will give as good as they get.

Give them a game where they have to think their way around obdurate opposition and it is painful to watch. It was like that against Algeria in the World Cup.

And at a Wembley littered with empty seats it was at times library quiet. Even the England band, usually prepared to bash their way through 90 minutes whatever the fare on offer, seemed unduly subdued.

It needed a large character to seize the match.

Steven Gerrard tried. Oh how he tried. He ran for England, tackled for England, threaded through a string of superb through balls, one of which at least should have been buried by Peter Crouch.

In short, he seemed on a one-man mission to prove that, while he may no longer be captain, he is the leader of this England side.

But if Gerrard was superb then Gareth Barry had one of those games he will be happy to forget. Wayward passes, missed tackles, a pedestrian demeanour to his gait.

Then there was Wayne Rooney. And it has to be reported that the real Rooney is still missing. Lost in action somewhere around last April.

The explosive, goal-grabbing Rooney has not been seen since, although he was unlucky when he latched on to a knifing pass from Gerrard in the second half only to see his shot saved by Montenegro goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic. The goalkeeper's outstretched arm denied him again 20 minutes later, but it does not help when there is so little movement around Rooney.

That is the problem Capello has with Crouch. He scores goals, 21 of them so far for England, but he lacks pace and possesses no sense of intricate movement. As Capello has conceded he also gives away too many free-kicks.

A word here for Montenegro whose game plan was to deny England fluency and rhythm. It did not make for beautiful football but it was effective.

The bottom line, however, is that Montenegro are unbeaten in European Championship qualifying Group G, have still to concede a goal and are top of the table. That is some feat, even if they did survive the most blatant of hand balls by defender Milan Jovanovic.

How ironic it would have been if Jovanovic's dipping volley soon after had then won the game for his side instead of thundering back off the crossbar.

Capello did bring on Bolton's Kevin Davies for Crouch in the last 20 minutes, England's oldest debutant since Leslie Compton in 1950. But he fared no better than the rest.

As we said, same old story.

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