Walcott shows flashes of class but not of anger

The wretched days of the Jabulani were removed from the mind in every way the Football Association could think of, even to the point of adorning last night's match ball with the flag of St George. One of the questions of the occasion was how Theo Walcott might manage to manipulate it.

A lot of water has run under the bridge since that May day on his local Brocket Hall golf course when Walcott's mobile phone chirruped and the call he was expecting to confirm his World Cup destiny instead destroyed it. But while you sense that the others who missed out this summer had gained from going untainted by the events of the tournament, Walcott has not. He still invites so many questions that you could be forgiven for thinking that it was he, not Aaron Lennon or Shaun Wright Phillips, who failed to deliver from the flanks back in June. While Joe Hart was declaring of the England camp earlier this week that "the spirit is a lot fresher now. It a whole lot different; exciting times", Walcott, across the same room, was left struggling to find some kind of riposte – and he certainly does struggle with putdowns – for those who question the presence, or lack of, a footballing brain in that head of his. He wanted to suggest he had a tough side but could not quite bring himself to say so. "I think you can be nice off the pitch and yet..." and he tailed off.

For quite some time last night, he really needed to be find a tough side – for those team-mates who variously fired high balls over his 5ft 9in frame into touch or else did not spot him at all. There was a moment, six minutes before half time when James Milner, running left to right into the Bulgaria area, only had eyes for Jermain Defoe, standing right in front of him, when Walcott was waiting, unmarked. There was barely more than a shrug from Walcott.

The timing was disappointing because the 21-year-old, who thrives on surges of confidence, had only just started to offer evidence of what he can deliver when he is fired by the self-belief which has so clearly has been restored in him in the domestic season. Collecting the ball rolled into his path by Glen Johnson 15 yards out, Walcott glided into an easy, fast, quick-footed run past Stanislav Angelov into the area, conjuring images of what he managed in Zagreb's Stadion Maksimir on that night – exactly two years ago on Friday – when his hat-trick marked him out as the most exciting prospect of his generation.

This time, Walcott's clipped cross landed in the roof of the net. It was the singular piece of skill in that first half to take the breath away and when he exchanged passes with Johnson and threaded a low ball into Defoe's feet, there was a sense that the game was about to explode for him.

It didn't. England's right flank contained this match's finest attacking wide players, in Johnson and Walcott, but their partnership did not elicit much more. Fabio Capello had no reason to berate himself for omitting Walcott in June. Wayne Rooney found Walcott unmarked on the right hand side of the box but he fired badly wide. Walcott strode into the box and struck the ball striaght at the goalkeeper.

Lee Dixon, who has watched Walcott at Arsenal more than most, observes that the wingers he came to fear most were those who mixed up their game. Players like Marc Overmars, playing for the Netherlands, and John Barnes who would drop sometimes deep to collect the ball and sometimes wait high up for it. Walcott certainly lacked that unpredictability and the habit of demanding – or else going hunting for the ball – which has made Adam Johnson such a menace this season.

Having arrived in Walcott's place, Johnson had been on the field for 10 minutes when, advancing on the opposite side of the pitch from a marauding Rooney, he held up his hand, demanding the pass. He received it and curled a shot narrowly wide. Two minutes later he found the net. A few more private agonies for Walcott; a few more reasons to throw his weight around more.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
books...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Romelu Lukaku scored twice to add to the hat-trick he registered in the first leg in Switzerland
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower