England’s edgy Denmark win gives Roy Hodgson food for thought

An insipid display from England in their slender win over Denmark in an underwhelming Wembley friendly won’t give boss Roy Hodgson much encouragement in his 2014 World Cup preparations.

Roy Hodgson (England boss at White Hart Lane - 22nd Nov 2015)
Plenty to ponder: Hodgson has lots to think about ahead of the World Cup if the Denmark friendly is anything to go by (Picture from Sky Sports)

ON a night when tactics and selection dilemmas were always going to dominate whatever the outcome, England made extremely hard work of edging past an average Denmark side.

But as far as final auditions go, those on the fringes of a career-defining World Cup experience in Brazil barely staked a claim to make the final 23-man cut.

As Roy Hodgson prepares to sift through the notepad and rewind the tape of the final 90 minutes before the preliminary squad is revealed, the signs of progression from a lackadaisical performance against the Danes – who failed to qualify for this summer’s tournament – will be difficult to find.

The unprecedented competition for places, mounting injury problems and varying untried formations will undoubtedly give the boss one or two headaches as the countdown to the big kick-off gathers speed.

And on the evidence of another subdued Wembley display, there is plenty of work to do in the 99 days that remain before the Three Lions take to the field in the Amazonian climbs of Manaus.

After November’s insipid defeats to Chile and Germany, rediscovering the winning formula that hadn’t been experienced since qualification was secured in October was important regardless of the manager’s methods and personnel on view.

Eight minutes away from an abject goalless draw, England were disappointing for large periods, upping the gears only in short spells and demonstrated a defensive vulnerability which leaves more ominous questions than conclusive answers.

Chances were few and far between with Denmark’s Peter Ankersen turning against his own post and Danny Welbeck going close on two occasions before Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, on top form throughout, was finally beaten by a Daniel Sturridge header.

One of five Liverpool starters in an England team for the first time since 1977, Sturridge was part of the Reds contingent supplying the backbone of a starting XI that raised few eyebrows.

Captain Steven Gerrard was an inevitable choice, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling made their second international starts while Glen Johnson’s 50th cap was a formality following Kyle Walker’s withdrawal through injury.

The inclusion of Ashley Cole has rarely been scrutinised so much in the past but with Leighton Baines taking the night off, a first start for Southampton’s latest teenage sensation Luke Shaw at left-back was widely expected.

The 18-year-old shared the 90 minutes with the Chelsea veteran, 15 years his senior, and quickly settled onto the senior international stage with a competent second-half display as a substitute.

Proud moment 😊

A post shared by Luke Shaw (@lukeshaw23) on

Although with World Cup certainties Joe Hart, Gary Cahill and Wayne Rooney all handed starts, Hodgson showed a distinct reluctance to experiment in a friendly which offered a final opportunity for squad players to impress.

The England manager maximised the use of his enlarged 30-man squad with 18 players taking to the field to showcase their credentials.

Just like his Manchester United team-mate Tom Cleverley, the form of Chris Smalling has been the subject of online abuse from fans of late and the former Fulham defender was efficient enough to cope with the threat of a largely impotent Danish attack.

With Gerrard sitting deeper in the engine room, the back four was solidly protected and gave the license for club team-mate Henderson and Jack Wilshere to press forward.

But the Arsenal midfielder never recovered fully from an early challenge by Daniel Agger, giving away possession cheaply on numerous occasions before being withdrawn prior to the hour mark.

There was no doubting the mark that his replacement left on a rather unforgettable occasion as Southampton captain Adam Lallana had the desired impact on his third cap.

Gliding elusively into space and weaving his magic graciously, the 25-year-old proved just why a seat on the plane should be reserved.

Lallana, whose consistent displays for the Saints this season have earned rave reviews, looked the only source of danger to the Denmark defence and invariably unlocked it to create the decisive moment.

Sturridge cut a frustrated figure at times in the first half when forced to retreat down the left hand side, tracking back with former Everton right-back Lars Jacobsen to perform a defensive role.

However when afforded greater freedom to roam through the middle in the second half and England’s emphasis shifted in the final half an hour, his ability in central areas shone through as his rich vein of goalscoring form continued.

Raheem Sterling, without making a significant contribution, offered a promising display on his Wembley debut with his electrifying pace causing problems.

Yet despite possessing the attacking tools to kill off the game, England’s lack of a cutting edge will be of grave concern to Hodgson just three months before the start of the World Cup.

Amid a muted atmosphere, the anxious Three Lions lacked energy and urgency in a cagey first half in which they failed to click into their stride until the closing minutes.

Even when in control, England were guilty of conceding the initiative which allowed the Danes, who sat back in numbers, to fashion several half-openings.

With passes going astray and the tempo often disjointed, Hodgson watched on pensively as the frustration mounted with every passing minute.

Although the pedestrian and predictable approach became distant after the break and scoring opportunities presented themselves, breaking the resistance of the well-organised visitors proved difficult for the Three Lions.

The result may have little bearing as World Cup preparations are finalised but in the first of four internationals to be played before the tournament gets underway, a morale-boosting win was just what the doctor ordered for the Three Lions.

A low-key friendly against considerably weak opposition won’t have inspired Hodgson to draw any conclusions into who deserves a coveted place in the squad. However, with two months to assess and evaluate each individual, Hodgson will leave no stone unturned in the process of allocating the plane tickets.

Whether the drab Danes display has had any real effect on turning ticks into crosses is unknown. While some did not show enough fight to earn their stripes, others certainly left a lasting impression on a manager under intense pressure to pick the right names.

By Adam Higgins
Twitter: @higgins_adam

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