ROY HODGSON. From gamekeeper to poacher. Who would have thought it?
After a dire first half in which England looked thoroughly lost in France, their veteran manager was charged with being bang on the money at half-time to justify his vast £3.9m yearly wages – the biggest sum paid to any Euro 2016 boss.
The consequences of failure did not need to be spelled out to him as the Welsh led.
It was crunch time if he was to stop the tournament degenerating into another embarrassing English debacle.
Yesterday’s first-half offering in Lens, where the minds appeared frazzled and the white shirts heavy, was an unwholesome rewind to far-flung venues such as Rustenberg, Cape Town and – for those with longer memories – Monterrey.
Crunch time also regarding the merits – or otherwise – of his tenure in charge with perceptions of a nation effectively boiling down to the moves he would make at the interval against Wales.
Lose and the red tops would have been scathing – think of an image of Hodgson Photoshopped onto a leek and you’re on the right lines – with pencils being sharpened by the assembled scribes at the break.
This was even without accounting for a group format where it seems harder not to qualify than qualify for the last 16. But that is another story.
Hodgson was forced to deal with the here and now with England encountering a crisis just one and a half games in.
Churchillian speeches have their place. But this was all about showing your hand, making your play.
No one could say that Hodgson didn’t have options, having included five forwards with him as part of his 23-man squad, although for the first 145 minutes of this tournament, he used one with that lone forward taking corners for the entirety of England’s opening group game.
His changes in Marseille may have drawn criticism, but thnakfully, second time around, Hodgson didn’t disappoint.
Even so it would not have taken a rocket scientist to deduce that a substitution or two was a non-negotiable with Raheem Sterling, in particular, enduring a painful opening half to follow on from his muddles in Marseille.
But credit where it is due: Hodgson made the right calls in throwing on Sheffield’s Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge, whose goalscoring interventions ensured that England came from behind at half-time to win a Euro tournament game for the first time. And break Welsh hearts in the process.
It leaves England at the summit of Group B and firmly in charge of their destiny ahead of Monday’s final group game with Slovakia in St Etienne.
Quite how they got there, no one is entirely sure following a frenzied afternoon in northern France where madness reigned over method and Hodgson cast off his perceived reputation as a footballing conservative and went for broke. Roundhead to cavalier, straight man to comic.
England got over the line in the nick of time, thanks to Sturridge, although the plan wasn’t a sophisticated one.
For his part, Hodgson, a gracious man, will have acknowledged that his changes were borne out of necessity rather than a stroke of tactical genius.
England’s performance may have royally entertained those watching in the footballing powerhouses of Germany, Italy and Spain. But they will not be losing sleep over what they witnesssed, which was lacking in technicality and tactical merit.
The plan was off-the-cuff and might have been written on the back of a cigarette packet: throw the forwards on and hope for the best.
In this case, it was a means to an end and it worked. Just.
But as for providing clues to the line-up that England will field when it gets to the business end of the knock-out phases, answers on a postcard please.
That is for another day, with England at least afforded a sugar rush of momentum after yesterday’s tumultuous late events. The trick is building on it.
There were individual pluses and while Vardy was bestowed with further plaudits following his fourth goal in his last five internationals, there was also further kudos for a second native of the Steel City in Kyle Walker, who produced another sound display at right-back where his energy, tenacity and spirit were in evidence.
As for the leader of the pack in Wayne Rooney, there was more evidence his future as a deep-lying midfielder will provide longevity for club and country. He provided the calm amid considerable chaos for England.
A cameo from Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, who eclipsed Rooney to become the youngest player to represent England at a European Championships, also provided encouragement. The lad has clearly got something.
As for the overall plan, no one quite knows, with the tournament futures of Kane and Sterling looking dicey after their demotions, while Joe Hart’s image as being a redoubtable presence in goal took another knock. It has not been a good championships for England’s Manchester City contingent so far.
But give thanks at least that Hodgson didn’t die wondering in a footballing sense after being on the precipice at half-time.
For the moment, just take comfort in the fact that the harmonious scenes in the stands in Lens among English and Welsh supporters were a far cry from those idiotic images from Lille and Marseille.
Long may that continue.