England 3 Hungary 1: Walcott walks into record books as England stagger to victory

Sven Goran Eriksson would call it a half-time epiphany, others might suggest a desperate kind of improvisation, but however England freed themselves from tactical paralysis last night it seems that their manager is no closer to finding a formula for winning the World Cup without Wayne Rooney.

England stumbled upon victory in the end, with Jamie Carragher's role as the holding midfielder abandoned at half-time, Owen Hargreaves thrown in and then, from somewhere, three goals from Steven Gerrard, John Terry and Peter Crouch. If this was the World Cup finals dress rehearsal, then the cast will surely get a different script come Saturday's game against Jamaica and no one can be expected to remember whether we are on Plan B, Plan C or Plan D.

At half-time, Theo Walcott must have been preparing to make his debut as England's youngest-ever international in desperate circumstances; as it turned out, he trotted on after 65 minutes, at 17 years and 75 days old, into a team that had transformed themselves. Like so much of Eriksson's regime this was a triumph of a kind that was arrived at by a circuitous route and there is no guarantee anyone can remember the way again.

For the first half, Eriksson's side seemed locked into a malfunctioning formation, that - through no fault of Carragher, who acquitted himself well - struggled to break down Hungary in any meaningful way. There was a gathering despair about them, an ineffectiveness that was hard to comprehend. They were set up to play like Chelsea, but there was not much about England in the first half that Jose Mourinho would have recognised. Their new five-man midfield left Michael Owen abandoned and remote in attack as his team-mates struggled to make sense of a new formation. For much of the first half, Gerrard was not transformed into the rampaging figure cut free of defensive duties, and he looked nonplussed and uncertain.

But within five minutes of the second half, England had taken a two-goal lead and so much of the first-half gloom was washed away. But one question hangs over this team: how can Eriksson know, as he claims, on this evidence what his side to face Paraguay on 10 June will be? It is not just the personnel, it is the entire shape of the team, and the very manner in which they will approach this tournament, that is still open to question. At half-time, Eriksson switched Carragher to right-back, and substituted Gary Neville who was, he said, struggling with a minor hamstring problem that should not rule him out of Saturday's game. No team that do not know their identity on the eve of a tournament can hope to flourish, and yet there was special cause for optimism in David Beckham's performance - he made the goals for Gerrard and Terry, while Eriksson once again leapt to his defence.

With his 15th international yellow card last night - to go with his three career dismissals - Beckham now has the worst disciplinary record of any England player in history but he came to his country's rescue last night. No one really believes that Aaron Lennon is a threat to the status of the England captain but, just to be sure, Beckham put in four crosses of the highest quality.

In the 40th minute, Beckham struck a half-volley into the area which Owen met with his head. Gabor Kiraly, the Crystal Palace goalkeeper, saved brilliantly with one hand and the ball came back into the area. Gerrard retrieved the ball and, as Csaba Feher challenged him, the Liverpool captain went down easily. It was enough to persuade the Dutch referee Peter Vink to give a penalty. England do not need any more uncertainty, but if Lampard misses another spot-kick like last night they may be forced into a rethink. Kiraly saved well to his right and, as the ball bounced up, Owen's header clipped the bar.

Before half-time Beckham had struck a second sublime ball in for Joe Cole to head against the post. Then after the break England started to take their chances. On 47 minutes, Beckham crossed from the right and Gerrard headed a simple goal down past Kiraly. England's second goal came three minutes later. This time on the left, Beckham struck a ball into the area where Terry headed in his first England goal. But the spell was broken by a fine Hungary goal on 55 minutes. It was an accomplished strike from the captain, Pal Dardai, who struck a fierce shot past Paul Robinson.

The crowd were then captivated by Walcott's arrival, on for Owen, who had been predicted to last a whole 90 minutes. Had one Walcott run and shot down the right been successful, any tactical uncertainty from Eriksson would have been forgotten.

The third goal came from Crouch, who collected Joe Cole's pass inside the area and struck a shot into the far corner. Terry's goal had been greeted by cradle-rocking celebrations to mark the birth of his twins; Crouch settled for the robotics - a reference to his dancing style captured on camera at the Beckhams' pre-World Cup party. Even that was not as surreal as England's latest tactical adjustments.

ENGLAND (4-1-4-1): Robinson (Tottenham); G Neville (Manchester United), Terry (Chelsea), Ferdinand (Manchester United), A Cole (Arsenal); Carragher (Liverpool); Beckham (Real Madrid), Lampard (Chelsea), Gerrard (Liverpool), J Cole (Chelsea); Owen (Newcastle). Substitutes used: Hargreaves (Bayern Munich) for Neville, h-t; Walcott (Arsenal) for Owen, 65; Crouch (Liverpool) for Gerrard, 65; Campbell (Arsenal) for Terry, 77.

HUNGARY (4-1-4-1): Kiraly (Crystal Palace); Feher (Willem II), Eger (Debrecen), Komlosi (Debrecen), Halmosi (Debrecen); Molnar (Zala); Gera (West Bromwich Albion), Toth (Malatyaspor), Dardai (Hertha Berlin), Huszti (Metz); Szabics (Cologne). Substitutes used: Vanczak (Upjest) for Komlosi, 9; Torghelle (Panathinaikos) for Toth, 62; Polonkai (Reac) for Szabics, 73; Vadocz (Auxerre) for Molnar, 83.

Referee: P Vink (Netherlands).

Man-for-man marking at Old Trafford by Nick Harris

Paul Robinson

Nothing to do in a dull first half. Not a save to make until beaten by Dardai's curling scorcher. 5/10

Gary Neville

Not his best night for England, with some sloppy passes and wayward crossing. 4

Rio Ferdinand

Languidly effective first half, coping with limited pressure. Limited Dardai's threat except at goal. Improved later. 6

John Terry

Solid at the back, dangerous at set pieces. Showed intent with first-minute header wide. Proved it with goal, one of several chances. 7

Ashley Cole

Found it tricky to be an overlapping full-back with in-form Joe Cole. Careless at times. 5

Jamie Carragher

Positive start but effective anchors do not roam. On 45-minute evidence, not a man for the holding slot. Switched later. 6

David Beckham

Precision delivery from set pieces. Glimpses of superb passing range. Committed. 8

Frank Lampard

A few slick passes but got hampered by visitors defending deep and in numbers. Poor penalty. 5

Steven Gerrard

Improved when he remembered strikers (or pseudo strikers) are selfish players who go for broke, as he does usually. Headed opener. 6

Joe Cole

Super. Bursts of pace, decent lay-offs, ran at defenders, tried to be creative. Deserved a goal. 8

Michael Owen

Made a couple of potentially good runs but the striker, though fit again, appears to be nowhere near his sharpest and struggled to work alone effectively. 5

SUBSTITUTES

Owen Hargreaves

(for Neville, h-t) Took holding role of Carragher, who switched to right back. Steady. 5

Peter Crouch

(for Gerrard, 65) Provided a target for high balls. Excellent control, spin and shot for goal. 6

Theo Walcott

(for Owen, 65) Showed a taste of his pace and movement and had a go late from a tight angle. 6

Sol Campbell

(for Terry, 77) Immediately got booked. Had little else to do. 5

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution