WEEKEND POLL: Easy to blame Hodgson but creaking defence is real problem

Costa Rica's Bryan Ruiz celebrates after scoring his side's winner against Italy, which knocked England out of the World Cup.
Costa Rica's Bryan Ruiz celebrates after scoring his side's winner against Italy, which knocked England out of the World Cup.
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IT seems Mystic Greg was right to be presumptous with his cut-throat gesture at the World Cup draw in Zurich.

Although most people’s money was on FA chairman Greg Dyke not thinking about England’s propensity to self-harm when he did so.

Plenty have – and are – having their two-penneth at England’s descent into a World Cup cul-de-sac in a typically flaming June – after all, it’s a summer national sport alongside Test cricket, Wimbledon and the Grand Prix.

In the space of one game, Roy Hodgson has metamorphosed from an sage uncle who seemingly knew more than most people gave him credit for to a rambling grandfather with certain sections of the national media.

Opinions as fitful as England’s wretched defending in Sao Paulo.

Blame the manager (groan).

This despite benign statistics which swamped Uruguay’s in terms of possession and shots on target – unfortunately the scoreboard was not so kind to the national team.

Granted, Hodgson is far from perfect.

But what he cannot legislate for is an England team conceding the type of goal on Thursday night that you will see on any park in England on any given Sunday morning in the football season.

The reason England have made a right old mess of their admittedly torturous looking World Cup group is down to one thing.

Defending, or a lack of it.

Alongside Hodgson, Steven Gerrard has emerged as the fall guy for his ill-timed header that let in a natural-born goal assassin in Luis Suarez late on in Thursday night’s 2-1 reverse, with culpability also for the first goal.

But it was the defensive malaise endemic across the back four that was far more destructive, debilitating and telling.

Nowhere was this manifested more than in a madcap spell just after the interval when England evoked memories of that Bloemfontein bullying by Germany in the last World Cup and went to pieces defensively; how Uruguay didn’t score is anyone’s guess. That was, unfortunately, to change.

Just as international forwards worth their salt are switched on 24/7 and sniff out opportunities – and there is no-one better on the planet than Suarez in this regard – then defenders, good ones, have a sixth sense for spotting danger. It’s called defensive craft.

It’s a trait that, sadly, Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill do not possess.

Honest, but base central defenders at the highest level, although the larder regarding England alternatives is a pretty bare one with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones heading into Brazil bruised of mind after the toughest of campaigns at Manchester United.

Leighton Baines and Glenn Johnson, feted for their offensiveness, but less so for meat-and-drink defending, have also had fateful moments in Manaus and Sao Paulo leading to goals, with the soothsayers who suggested England’s back four was likely to be the weakest ever going into an international tournament bang on the money.

And here was Hodgson, a man with relatively little to work with defensively going into a tournament-defining game in which the script was written for Suarez to either be a hero or villain.

He was never going to arrive or leave the stage by the back door, let’s face it – it’s not his style.

For all the tirade about the number of foreign players dominating our major clubs and technical shortcomings, England have, at least, showed some semblance of forward ambition in a tournament, removed from the anti-football they delivered in South Africa.

The likes of Sturridge, Sterling and Barkley offer genuine hope for the future, but have plenty more to do to get streetwise on the biggest stage.

At least, England will have some sort of legacy to take away from South America, that can be said. Young players have had a chance and at least supporters won’t go away wondering.

The likes of Stones and Shaw may be the next to step up and their evolution will be interesting.

Just get the basics right first, lads.