England 1 Portugal 0: Win is unable to mask poor display by Hodgson’s men

England's Chris Smalling, obscured by post, scores England's winner in the friendly with Portugal (Picture: David Davies/PA Wire).
England's Chris Smalling, obscured by post, scores England's winner in the friendly with Portugal (Picture: David Davies/PA Wire).
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AS SEND-OFFS for Euro 2016 go, this was more awful than au revoir.

England, looking worryingly disjointed considering the opening game of Euro 2016 is a little over a week away, made desperately hard work of overcoming a Portugal side shorn of not only Cristiano Ronaldo but also a full complement of players for the best part of an hour thanks to the dismissal of Bruno Alves.

Employing a mish-mash formation that seemed to suit none of the considerable attacking talent at manager Roy Hodgson’s disposal, the Three Lions’ blushes were spared by Chris Smalling’s winner four minutes from time.

It was a well worked goal, Raheem Sterling being found wide on the left flank by a neat pass. He took a touch and then sent over an inviting cross that Smalling, after ghosting between two Portugal defenders, deftly headed beyond Rui Patricio. But his first international goal could not mask a desperately poor showing from the hosts.

England laboured horrendously. Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane may have scored 49 goals between them in the Premier League, but until the introduction of Sterling from the bench there was precious little attacking threat on show.

Not that either Kane or Vardy could necessarily be blamed. A set-up that had Wayne Rooney pushing forward to play through the centre meant the two most in-form English strikers of the past nine months were nudged into wide roles.

Dele Alli suffered a similar fate in midfield, the Tottenham Hotspur man spending far too long on the fringes of the game when his talent demands a central role.

Just why Hodgson stuck with this set-up for so long was a mystery, especially after Alves had been dismissed for a quite horrendous head-high challenge on Kane wide on the right flank.

Sterling’s direct running did, at least, change things but, even allowing for England signing off with a win, the managers of Russia, Wales and Slovakia are unlikely to be losing any sleep ahead of Group B getting under way.

Will Hodgson have a rethink on tactics or personnel before the Russia clash a week tomorrow? The likelihood is he will not with the England manager having shown in the past that the final warm-up fixture is very much a dress rehearsal for the real thing.

In Euro 2012 and the World Cup two years later, 10 of the starting XI in the opening group game had been selected for the previous outing.

Where things will alter in Marseille, of course, is the pace and intensity will be different to last night’s pedestrian affair. With a finals so close, players understandably prioritise avoiding injury over anything else.

Perhaps, therefore, the largely dull fare was to be expected.

Just after the half-hour, Kyle Walker did thunder a shot just wide from 25 yards, while Rooney and Kane also brought routine saves from Rui Patricio.

But, as the sell-out attendance digested during the interval what they had just seen, there was only one genuine incident of note and that involved the rarest of things in a friendly: a red card.

Thirty five minutes of largely non-descript fare had been played when the ball broke to Kane on the right flank.

As Alves moved across to try to avert the danger, the Spurs striker won the race to the ball before being flattened by a quite ridiculous challenge.

Kane, to his credit, immediately got back to his feet before trying to play on, but the fact Alves’s right boot connected with Kane’s left cheek meant referee Marco Guida had no option but to brandish a red card.

The second half brought more of the same until Sterling’s arrival. Gary Cahill pulled off a fine tackle to stop Andre Gomes in his tracks, and Nani fired high and wide when well placed.

At the other end, Eric Dier shot straight into Patricio’s hands and Danny Rose wasted an excellent opening when released by Sterling by firing at the first defender.

Daniel Sturridge shot wide after coming off the bench before then getting his wires crossed with Rose and playing a pass that the Doncaster-born left-back had not been expecting.

It seemed to sum up neatly England’s night but then, in a rare moment of quality, Sterling whipped in a fine cross and Smalling did the rest to ensure Hodgson’s men will head to France on Monday on the back of a victory.

In that respect, we should be grateful for small mercies.

What last night’s win over a Portugal side without the holidaying Ronaldo will not do, however, is guarantee a strong showing in Euro 2016.

Peru, Belgium and Mexico have all been beaten under the Arch in the send-off before the the last three tournaments and we all know what an unmitigated mess they proved.

The challenge for Hodgson and his players is to ensure this time is different. Given last night, though, that looks a forlorn hope.

England: Hart; Walker, Smalling, Cahill, Rose; Milner (Wilshere 66), Dier, Alli (Henderson 90); Rooney (Lallana 78); Vardy (Sterling 66), Kane (Sturridge 78). Substitutes (not used): Clyne, Forster, Henderson, Stones, Barkley, Rashford, Heaton.

Portugal: Patricio; Vieirinha, Alves, R Carvalho (Eder 90), Eliseu; Danilo, Adrien (Sanches 72), Moutinho (W Carvalho 72); Mario (Gomes 46), Nani (Quaresma 61), Rafa (Fonte 37). Substitutes (not used): Guerreiro, Eder, Lopes, Cedric.

Referee: Marco Guida (Italy).