FIRST HALF good, second half, not so good was the stock phrase of choice for former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson during his tenure, with the opposite applying for Roy Hodgson after the Three Lions’ 1-1 draw against Italy in Turin last night.
The friendly draw extended England’s unbeaten streak to nine matches, but there was plenty of food for thought for Hodgson, on a night when substitute Andros Townsend restored parity for the visitors with a fine long-range strike 11 minutes from time.
It cancelled out an opener for the Azzurri from Southampton striker Graziano Pelle, who headed home just before the half-hour mark after good work on the left by the impressive Giorgio Chiellini.
Here’s five observations from last night’s clash at the Juventus Stadium.
1: Phil Jones is not an international-class central midfielder - never has been, never will be.
You suspect that among sports-minded folk discussing developments in Turin across workplaces the length and breadth of England today that this point will be raised innumerable times. Saddled with the considerable pressure of being the ‘next Duncan Edwards’ when he joined Manchester United for a big eight-figure fee from Blackburn, Jones has endured a truly bumpy ride at Old Trafford and it certainly was not one of Hodgson’s best decisions to field him as a holding midfielder against Italy last night. Make that one of the worst. Pity him, if Andrea Pirlo had been playing, it might have finished off his international career...Hodgson’s theory that he wanted to see how Jones could cope, if the occasion arose in the future when he might have to fill in there in a tournament game due to injuries or a sending-off, wasn’t convincing. Jones was wholly uncomfortable and clumsy in the middle of the park, with the game largely passing him by. He is a central defender/right back and you sense his relief was palpable when he was restored to the backline due to Chris Smalling’s injury near the end of the first half.
2: Hodgson’s faith in Andros Townsend was rewarded
Eighteen months ago, the Spurs man, who spent a short loan spell at Leeds United, at the start of 2012, was a shoo-in for a World Cup place on the back of impressive performances in the World Cup qualifying wins over Montenegro - when he was outstanding on his goalscoring debut - and Poland, when England booked their seat on the plane for Brazil. Unfortunately, an ankle injury robbed him of a place in Hodgson’s squad and he is now clearly intent on making up for lost time after watching on last summer when he was part of the ITV’s World Cup team of pundits. Townsend has had one or two critics of late including Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson who felt he should be nowhere near the squad, but the Londoner answered them emphatically with a quality equaliser nine minutes after entering the fray. Townsend clearly has game-changing impact qualities for England and offers precious width and pace, an asset against tiring defences. While has not been a regular for Spurs, there are plenty of examples in the past of players not being week-in week-out regulars for their clubs, but doing the business for their countries.
3: Even at 33, Michael Carrick is vital for England.
The Manchester United’s schemer’s performance after entering the fray enabled England to get a toehold in the game and semblance of control after minimal quality possession before that and no go-forward with passes too deliberate and side-ways. Wayne Rooney’s assertion that he was England’s best player on the pitch by a country mile when he came on may have been a little generous, but you understood his sentiment with his qualities in the middle of the park enabling the visitors to play and make inroads and start to ask questions of Italy. Carrick has seen it and done it and regards possession as nine-tenths of the law and spots openings and can make England tick. In that operating role at the hub of midfield, he is certainly the best we have currently got and his presence is increasingly vital to England. He has 33 caps for England - and really should have been handed many more.
4: Fabian Delph has a fair bit to learn - as does Nathaniel Clyne
Delph surrendered possession on a number of occasions and while you can get away with that to some degree against poor opposition, it is a different story against the big boys, with the Aston Villa midfielder still very much a work in progress as he failed to provide a supply line for England’s front three of Rooney, Harry Kane and Theo Walcott. Ditto Clyne, who had a difficult first half before being withdrawn at the interval, which was always the plan with Hodgson keen to have a look at Spurs’ defender and former Sheffield United player Kyle Walker. In terms of Delph, he can certainly learn a lot from training and playing alongside Carrick, as can Jordan Henderson too.
5: Theo Walcott is no ‘number ten’
Lee Dixon may be an ‘Arsenal man’, but you could not fail to agree with his point that thrusting Walcott into the Messi role in the hole just behind Rooney and Harry Kane in the second half was the equivalent of hanging him out to dry. The diamond did Walcott few favours and while Walcott fancies himself as a central striker in an ideal world, his best position is clearly on the flanks. Defenders hate pace, Walcott has it in abundance and the flyer truly thrives on width, but he was starved of space and service in Turin, with his frustration obvious. Glenn Hoddle’s point that Walcott is also suffering after being fast-tracked at the start of his England career, let’s not forget he was taken to the World Cup at the age of 17 with huge amounts of expectations heaped upon his shoulders, is also a pertinent one.