James Lawton: Gerrard must regain >control if Hodgson is to achieve his limited aim


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The Independent Online

Roy Hodgson was right to believe he scored a kind of triumph in Oslo and soon enough it was confirmed by the headline "The Roy done good."

He did too. He orchestrated a team performance of sufficient organisation to suggest England will be something rather more than the rabble that circumstances might easily have fashioned in less experienced hands so close to the start of the European Championship.

What the new manager couldn't do, unfortunately, was something that you had to suspect would have been beyond a committee of Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and any other genius manager you might care to mention.

He couldn't make his job look anything more than a massive exercise in damage control. The problem is that England simply don't have enough vaguely world-class players or leaders – and this is not likely to change sufficiently when the heroes of Chelsea roll up and Wayne Rooney has served his suspension.

Hodgson, after all, has been clear enough that Steven Gerrard is, in his mind, the outstanding candidate for the captaincy after the stripping of John Terry and his own decision to leave Rio Ferdinand at home.

It is a call that may be redeemed in the coming weeks because no one can dispute the inspirational qualities Gerrard can find when he hits his best form. Disappointingly, this didn't happen when he filled in for Terry and Ferdinand in the World Cup two years ago – and certainly it didn't in Oslo on Saturday night.

Even when you put on one side the hare-brained tackle that put Norway's Tom Hogli out of the game and might easily have led to a red card, Gerrard didn't begin to look the part.

His early nervousness gave way to something much more disturbing. It was a near total failure to produce anything that smacked of authority. In a player long lauded as one of the world's leading midfielders, Gerrard's most impressive asset has always been his ability to break open games.

In Oslo such a force of nature went missing and it was a fact bleak enough before he launched himself at the unfortunate Hogli. Hodgson, unsurprisingly, went into defensive mode, disputing hard the suggestion of Roy Keane – something of a connoisseur of the rash tackle – that if Gerrard pulled anything like it in the Euros he would be in receipt of a red card. "You just can't afford to tackle like that at international level," announced Keane.

Hodgson, though, wasn't having any of Keane's analysis, declaring: "It was a fair tackle. There was no intent to injure the player and Stevie's studs were not up. It was a strong, brave challenge and the type I hope our players put in at the Euros because it shows their commitment." As John McEnroe might have put it, he cannot have been serious; at least not unless he is ready for some extremely thin resources even before Wayne Rooney clears off his two-game suspension.

Ashley Young ensured that Hodgson got off to a winning start when he scored cleverly, albeit against defence of a naivety unlikely to be glimpsed against France, and if the England performance did fall away against the world's 25th-ranked nation, there had been some promising early evidence of a team in no doubt about how it was expected to play.

Andy Carroll, Joleon Lescott and stand-by flyer Phil Jagielka all suggested they might well make valuable contributions in Ukraine.

Where Hodgson needs to go before the final workout against Belgium is the boldness department, where he will find Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

In Oslo he made a late arrival but it was a swaggering one that was a welcome reminder of how a team, any team, can benefit from someone who doesn't look about to jump out of his skin.

Few young players can ever have inhabited their own space quite so comfortably. Eight years ago Rooney took hold of the Euros before injury. This is a very long time to wait for a similar stirring of the blood.