A RECURRING theme of Sven Goran Eriksson’s tenure as England coach was “first half good, second half not so good” and vice-versa.
As a fine England performance unravelled in Podgorica on Tuesday night to such an extent the Three Lions should have been relieved to have escaped with a 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw with Montenegro, that same damning assessment was inescapable.
Considering it is nearly seven years and three coaches ago that Eriksson left, that is shocking.
England have discovered before that Montenegro have some considerable talent so a point seems a decent return, but the air surrounding the team yesterday on their return was negative.
“You’re hitting me with statistics from before my time,” said manager Roy Hodgson, when asked why such staggering swings in fortune have become such a hallmark of England’s sorry past.
“We didn’t try to see the game out at 1-0, but sometimes it’s the only thing you can do.
“Unfortunately our ability to keep the ball and dominate central midfield wasn’t as good in the second half.”
A couple of the most experienced players in the team, Steven Gerrard and Michael Carrick, proved incapable of stemming the flow of Montenegro attacks. Instead of simply retaining possession, a hallmark of Carrick’s game at club level, and taking the sting out of a home revival that could have been predicted given the hosts were so badly outplayed before the break, they kept pushing forward, creating holes Montenegro were happy to fill.
Then, when it started going wrong, Hodgson opted against change.
His strange declaration afterwards that he did not look at the bench and see anyone who could improve matters does not say much for Scott Parker and Leon Osman, both of whom are more defensively minded than, say, Tom Cleverley, who was having little impact.
These are the moments that can prove pivotal in any qualifying campaign, and England were found wanting.
There were obvious plusses.
Joe Hart responded positively to the additional competition from Ben Foster and produced his best England performance since Euro 2012.
During the first half in particular, Danny Welbeck caused the home defence major problems and was unfortunate to be denied a penalty which may have made a vast difference to the outcome.
And Wayne Rooney, on the ground where he was sent off on his previous visit, never looked like getting into more trouble, at the same time becoming the first England player to score in four successive competitive games since David Beckham.
Typically, Hodgson remains optimistic, preferring to look on the bright side of a result that would have been acceptable prior to kick-off.
“I do believe we will still qualify,” he said. “The players have shown tremendous spirit even at times when things aren’t necessarily going our way.
“There is no question we are a very difficult team to beat and we do have a lot of quality, so I believe fervently that we will do well