Young strike gives spark to dreary England
Norway 0 England 1: Hodgson's reign begins with a victory but there's precious little to get excited about from typically workmanlike performance less than two weeks before Euro 2012
England went back to the future under their new manager Roy Hodgson last night, with a standard 4-4-2 formation and a big centre-forward to knock the ball up to.
Manchester United's Ashley Young, playing right up alongside Andy Carroll, scored inside the first 10 minutes and there was never any great danger thereafter of Hodgson joining Alf Ramsey as the only manager to lose his first match in charge of England. It was hardly, however, one of the convincing wins or performances with which Don Revie, Kevin Keegan, Glenn Hoddle, Sven Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren all began; and we know what happened to just about all of them.
Hodgson insisted on Friday that this was "a preparation game", one of two he has before the European Championship. He saw some determined work from his second strings in the back-line and confirmation that Young can play in a forward role if bog-standard 4-4-2 is to be the system. England looked better when Steven Gerrard was on than when he went off as planned, and generally lacked a creative spark.
It can safely be assumed that the team that faces Belgium at Wembley on Saturday will be far closer to the real thing than yesterday's. With Chelsea's players, of whom John Terry and Daniel Sturridge did not play at all in the Champions' League final, excused duty all last week, the whole defence, including the goalkeeper, was composed of reserves.
One of them, Phil Jagielka, will not even travel to the finals unless there are further injury problems like the one Gareth Barry suffered in the second half. Last night Hodgson said it was too early to decide whether Jagielka or Jordan Henderson would replace Barry if he was forced to drop out. Joleon Lescott may harbour hopes of partnering John Terry in Donetsk and did his chances no harm with a strong performance alongside Jagielka in repelling a predictably direct threat.
The only doubt about yesterday's starting XI was the identity of the wide players, who turned out – possibly to Theo Walcott's concern – to be James Milner and Stewart Downing. Neither excelled, but nor did Walcott after appearing in the second half at a time when England were mostly going backwards.
For the first half, before substitutions kicked in, Steven Gerrard sat in between the wingers alongside Scott Parker. Gerrard was booed for the last few minutes of his stint, having put the Norwegian right-back Tom Hogli out of the game with a tackle which he claimed was a fair one but would have brought a yellow card in tournament play. Barry replaced him and took the armband too – which may have disappointed Parker, Stuart Pearce's choice. Until the next change – Walcott for Parker – it meant a midfield high on endeavour but low on creativity, which summed up the whole display. Alas, Jack Wilshere will sit out the summer.
Downing, after a hugely underwhelming season with Liverpool, was given the opportunity to supply his club-mate Andy Carroll but did not contribute a great deal, although the pair formed a briefly profitable triangle with Gerrard. Carroll was able to claim an assist for the goal Young scored in the ninth minute. The big centre-forward had already sneaked in front of Brede Hangeland to put a fierce header wide and the Fulham defender was guilty again when Carroll sent Young through on a swift counter-attack to leave Hangeland looking foolish and finish neatly just inside the far post with his left foot.
Young often helped the Merseyside trio form a Lancashire quartet and from Gerrard's pass he volleyed over the bar. Milner set Carroll away with Hangeland caught upfield but his low cross for Young was hit too hard and when Milner cut inside, Carroll wanted a cut-back but the Manchester City man shot, allowing Rune Jarstein a routine save.
As Norway improved – a little – Robert Green on his first appearance since the World Cup match against the United States almost had a Rustenburg moment, allowing Morten Gamst Pedersen's corner to strike the post. John Arne Riise provided the occasional threat from the left, where Milner allowed him too much room, but Lescott and Jagielka were solid in their defending.
The two full-backs dealt competently with Norway's wide men and early in the second half Leighton Baines, quiet until that point, struck a good free-kick that Jarstein had to be at full stretch to keep out.
After that Norway pushed forward more and homed in on some long throws, but created few chances and Green's handling became more assured. There was a debut in the last quarter of an hour for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Martin Kelly but Barry had to come off with what could prove a worrying injury.
Five things we have learned: Hodgson's choices will be determined by injuries – and his rigid 4-4-2
Roy Hodgson likes 4-4-2. It was the formation with which he and his mentor Bob Houghton transformed Swedish football more than 30 years ago and it still finds favour with him. He had been expected to use someone – Steven Gerrard if not Ashley Young – just off Andy Carroll, but Young was even the furthest man forward on occasion.
Ashley Young can play as a second striker right alongside the main man and not just in support. He took his goal splendidly and offered an unexpected option, whoever plays with him. "He's at the right age and the right time of his career if he's going to be a top international," Hodgson said.
All change at the back
The team to start the European Championship against France will be substantially different – quite possibly with a completely new back five if Glen Johnson's toe injury ever clears up. But if the Chelsea pairing of John Terry and Gary Cahill had until now been favourites to start in the centre of England's defence, then Joleon Lescott's strong performance at the end of a good season has put some pressure on Cahill.
Squad carrying injuries
Injury concerns will continue for some days, if not weeks. Gareth Barry now requires a scan, Adam Johnson and Danny Welbeck are not fit at present and can hardly guarantee being so before the Uefa deadline at midday on Tuesday. The squad will have to be named either with one or more players less than 100 per cent, as usual, or with one of the standby players brought in.
Green cements deputy role
Robert Green may not be finished as an international goalkeeper just yet. Two years on from his last game for his country, he was troubled only once and, although the Norwegian attack – such as it was – rarely managed even a shot on target, he commanded his area and handled well under a barrage of crosses, corners and long throws from the two full-backs. Manchester City's Joe Hart has quite clearly proved himself to be the number one No 1 but Green is now equally well established as first reserve.
First games in charge
Walter Winterbottom beat Ireland (a) 7-2, 1946
Sir Alf Ramsey lost to France (a) 5-2, 1963
Don Revie beat Czechoslovakia (h) 3-0, 1974
Ron Greenwood drew 0-0 with Switzerland (h), 1977
Sir Bobby Robson drew 2-2 with Denmark (a), 1982
Graham Taylor beat Hungary (h) 1-0, 1990
Terry Venables beat Denmark (h) 1-0, 1994
Glenn Hoddle beat Moldova (a) 3-0, 1996
Kevin Keegan beat Poland (h) 3-1, 1999
Sven Goran Eriksson beat Spain (h) 3-0, 2001
Steve McClaren beat Greece (h) 4-0, 2006
Fabio Capello beat Switzerland (h) 2-1, 2008
Roy Hodgson beat Norway (a) 1-0, 2012
Norway (4-1-4-1): Jarstein; Hogli (Ruud, 40), Hangeland, Demidov, Riise; Tettey (Jenssen, 90); Elyounoussi, Henriksen (Berisha, 84), Pedersen (Grindheim, 62), Braaten (Huseklepp, 74); Abdellaoue.
England (4-4-2): Green; Jones (Kelly, 88), Jagielka, Lescott, Baines; Milner, Parker (Walcott, 56), Gerrard (Barry, h-t; Henderson, 73), Downing (A Johnson, 85); Young (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 72), Carroll.
Referee Michael Weiner (Germany).
Man of the match Lescott.
Match rating 6/10.
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