The obituaries for English football penned by the nation’s doom-mongers seem the norm after every England game.
Roy Hodgson – and more importantly the national team – seem to have lost the confidence of a nation, and the national print media appear happy to join in the fun.
After defeating San Marino 5-0, those supporters who bothered to turn up at Wembley voted Joe Hart man of the match.
This was more a touch of humour than a serious statement on the health of English football. For the Manchester City goalkeeper hardly touched the ball all evening, and even when he did get a tickle from a backpass it was greeted by ironic cheers.
Sixty-three per cent of the thousands who voted opted for the England goalkeeper, with Jack Wilshere and Wayne Rooney trailing behind in second and third respectively.
The problem was, whatever happened on Thursday night against a very poor San Marino, England were in a no-win situation. Destroy the part-timers 8-0, and most would say ‘it’s only what’s expected’. Win just 5-0, and observers wonder why we only scored five.
The fact the European minnows rarely crossed the halfway line and fell back into a 7-2-1 formation when they did not have the ball could have had something to do with the scoreline.
Never mind Jose Mourinho’s attempt to park the bus, San Marino employed London’s entire fleet of Routemasters.
San Marino coach Pierangelo Manzaroli said before the match that his team were embarking on a “damage limitation” exercise, and this much was evident from the kick-off.
England are in a weak qualifying group for the Euro 16 finals, and Hodgson’s team could very well go through unbeaten. He believes they can replicate the great Arsenal team of ‘invincibles’.
Tomorrow they face a trip to Estonia, and while they should pose a few more questions of England’s defence, I would be surprised if it is not another victory.
One of the things that impressed me on Thursday evening was the huge contingent of Arsenal players.
At one stage there were five Gunners on the pitch, all young players, which looks very healthy for not only Hodgson but Arsene Wenger.
Both full-backs looked assured, in Kieran Gibbs and Calum Chambers, Wilshere pulled the strings from the base of the diamond midfield formation – two long balls to Rooney were inch-perfect and deserving of goals – while the attacking impetus brought by Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was impressive.
There is the caveat that they were only playing San Marino so any praise has to be tempered, but I did remain seatedon my sofa even if the wave after wave of attacks reminded me of playing my six-year-old son at football on his games console.
Of course, after an abysmal summer in Brazil, the only way is up for England but that second-half display did renew my confidence.
Yes, it was just San Marino, but some of England’s passing and movement was top drawer and in Adam Lallana – seriously under-used at the World Cup – we possess a two-footed player who can unlock defences and operate in the smallest of gaps.
Chambers, Lallana and the rest of the England squad now face a quick turnaround as they travel to Estonia looking for a third straight win in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.
And they will be buoyed by a decent performance against San Marino, against whom Lallana looked to have found the net for the first time for the Three Lions.
It was a fluky effort, given Oxlade-Chamberlain’s shot went in off his heel, and one which was wrongly chalked off for offside.
“I would have taken it,” Lallana said, with a laugh, after Thursday’s game.
“I was onside.
“I was bitterly disappointed, but Alex and I had a laugh about it after the game.”
We may be lagging behind the world’s elite, but that is nothing new, and England will continually be bashed over the head with the fact you have to go back to 1966 for our only major trophy success.
Remember, there’s always someone worse off than you.
European champions Spain suffered a first qualifying defeat for eight years as former Chelsea player Miroslav Stoch helped earn Slovakia a famous victory on Thursday.
After their dismal World Cup showing in Brazil, the problems continue to mount for Vicente del Bosque and his players as they failed to cause a well-organised Slovakia too many problems.
Even Diego Costa, who has scored nine goals in seven Premier League games for Chelsea and looks unstoppable, has yet to find the net in six appearances for his country.
So, yes, England still have much to do to convince a nation of doubters that they can once more compete at the serious end of tournaments.
But the health and well-being of the national team is far less damaged than some would have us believe.
Hodgson just has to capture some of that flowing football from the second half on Thursday and replicate that against better teams.
For while England may not be winners just yet, if they can earn the reputation of entertainers, then us long-suffering supporters may allow them back into our affections.