Football: Hoddle burdened by the weight of expectation

Ken Jones sees a lack of creativity which could yet be England's downfall
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The Independent Online
A pretty obvious fact about English football audiences today is that results matter a great deal more to them than quality of performance.

Conditioned by an exaggerated perception of play in the Premier League a lot of spectators now convey the impression that they aren't entirely sure of what is going on out there.

With the game still goalless after 30 minutes play at Wembley last night that boring Mexican wave was back with us to indicate waning interest.

Admittedly, there hadn't been much that could be described as exciting but a better educated crowd would, I think, have been more appreciative of the activity on offer.

This is as much of a problem for the England coach, Glenn Hoddle, as it was for his predecessors. Responsible for winning matches, specifically to qualify England for the World Cup finals in France next year, he is stuck with expectations out of all proportion to history.

Apart from the World Cup victory in 1966 and a semi- final place seven years ago, England's record in the World Cup isn't up to much but that never dispels the belief that they remain a great power in football.

Against Georgia, who arrived pointless after two group games, England were often technically inferior. A fine goal - an intelligent run and cross by Alan Shearer, a smashing header from Teddy Sheringham, typically British in fact - promised much but England were generally second best in the brains department.

What they lack most of all, and it explains Hoddle's reluctance to write off the wayward Paul Gascoigne, is a creative force, someone who can bring coherence to midfield and alter the rhythm when necessary.

England could have added to the two goals they scored but a neutral point of view is that this would have been unfair on the sprightly Georgians who are attempting to create a team with slim financial resources.

Certainly they brought a lot of class to the proceedings especially when Newcastle's recent signing Temur Ketsbaia was on the ball and moving at pace passed England's defenders.

Towards the end you could sense that England's supporters were growing nervous about the way things were proceeding. A real football audience might by then have been expressing their dissatisfaction.

England's second goal resulted from an error of judgement by Georgia's goalkeeper Irakil Zoidze, who fell on the ball a few yards from his goal- line when it was pushed back by one of his defenders.

With Shearer around this was quite clearly a crisis for Georgia and when the indirect free-kick was pushed into his path the Newcastle United forward blasted it high into the netting.

It put a different complexion on things but not probably to Hoddle's satisfaction. The crowd were encouraged to depart singing the Euro 96 anthem. But events elsewhere put England's victory into some sort of perspective.

Italy's defeat of Poland in Naples strengthened their grip on the group and some work will have to be done on England's shortcomings if they are to at least survive the difficult matches that await them.