Bad night, Vienna: England suffer from James calamity

Eriksson's record under threat as his side are left clinging to a point
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The Independent Online

Flattery and deception are becoming England's stock-in-trade. They managed to open a two-goal lead over Austria despite lacking inspiration but then conceded two goals in two minutes midway through the second half and had to hang on for a 2-2 draw in their opening match in World Cup qualifying group six in Vienna.

Flattery and deception are becoming England's stock-in-trade. They managed to open a two-goal lead over Austria despite lacking inspiration but then conceded two goals in two minutes midway through the second half and had to hang on for a 2-2 draw in their opening match in World Cup qualifying group six in Vienna.

England showed the familiar failings from Euro 2004 and before - possession without creativity, playing too narrow, David Beckham drifting inside, long hopeful passes, a howler from David James. For the critics of Sven Goran Eriksson this was a feast. What will the second course bring when Poland play hosts in Katowice?

A piece of clever improvisation by David Beckham brought them the lead in strange circumstances after 24 minutes. Martin Stranzl, the Austrian defender, appeared to think he had heard the referee's whistle after Alex Manninger, the Austrian goalkeeper, parried a cross by Gary Neville. Stranzl idly tapped the ball back across goal and Manninger dived on it. The referee ruled it was an illegal back pass. The Austrian defenders concentrated on blocking the expected piledriver from Beckham, but when the ball was tapped back to him he stroked it wide to Frank Lampard, who scored unchallenged.

Once ahead England began to look more confident, looking secure but created few chances. They should, though, have scored a second goal when Alan Smith was set up by Frank Lampard and Michael Owen, but Manninger pulled off a point blank save. That save by the former Arsenal goalkeeper inspired Austria and England lost their shape. But England snapped out of their poor spell with a stunning goal in the 64th minute. Stephen Gerrard gave another poor pass but Smith stepped in to prod the loose ball to Owen. He turned it back to Gerrard, who curled a first-time shot over Manninger from 20 yards.

For a while England gave the impression of coasting but they were drifting and their two-goal advantage quickly disappeared. A foul by Lampard 20 yards from goal brought a free-kick, which the substitute Roland Kollmann drove through a gap in the wall and past James. Worse was to follow. Andreas Ivanschitz, the Austrian Beckham, tried his luck from similar range and his shot, deflected down off John Terry's boot, went under James's poor dive.

Wales were also below par, and their 1-1 draw with Azerbaijan in Baku was a good result for England. Wales struggled to take control but a half-time change paid off with Jason Koumas moving left when John Oster came on for Mark Pembridge. Koumas swung the ball across, John Hartson headed back across and Gary Speed touched the ball home. But there was a shock for Wales in the 56th minute when Rashad Sadikhov smashed in a 30-yard free-kick.

There was even more disappointment in Belfast where Poland breezed past Northern Ireland 3-0 without playing particularly well. Poland were set on their way by a gift goal when Maciej Murawski scored direct from a corner, Piotr Wlodarczyk and Jacek Krzynowek the third. But Wlodarczyk was sent off for elbowing 11 from time and will not face England on Wednesday in Katowice. Eriksson should be thankful for such small mercies.

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