Comment: England again suffer from Sunday league ball retention in World Cup qualifier against Ukraine

Old problems continue to plague Roy Hodgson's side

England's players will pick up the papers this morning, dip into Twitter, listen to the pundts, and curse. "What do they know about it, the idiots?" will be the cry, except it will be expressed in language not fit for a family newspaper.

When the final whistle blew, the players were elated. They had travelled to a difficult venue, with a depleted squad, absorbed a lot of pressure, and secured what was in many respects a fairly comfortable point. Footballers love that kind of result, especially English ones. It is all about heart, grit, digging deep and every other cliché we have heard for decades. Moreover, progress to the World Cup finals is still in their own hands. A brace of home wins against Montenegro and Poland and England are off to Rio.

However, based on tonight's performance there is no guarantee England will achieve those wins. And if they do get to Brazil they could tank as they did in South Africa.

For the players, tonight was all about the result, and they got one. The next match is the next match – they can worry about that in the future, celebrate the here and now, crack open a beer (not many, not these days) on the return flight and savour the feeling of standing up to be counted.

It was a tough task and the players have every right to feel pleased, but for those who follow England, professionally or personally, there is a bigger picture. England rarely looked like losing tonight, but they rarely looked like winning either. Creatively they were dire, ball retention was of the level of Sunday morning parks football. The cry on Twitter was for Michael Carrick, probably the best rotator of possession in England, but it should be remembered he was part of the midfield collapse to Montenegro in Podgorica.

Not that this is anything new. It is nearly 20 years since Terry Venables held court in the old Red Bar at Wembley and explained how he was trying to drill into his players the need to retain possession. But Venables, like Roy Hodgson, and everyone from Glenn Hoddle to Fabio Capello in between, can only play with the hand they are dealt. Decades of poor coaching theory and practice, and a cultural aversion to patient football, have left England bereft of players who are comfortable on the ball – the basic requirement to succeed in international football.

But it could have been worse. Kiev has not joined Belo Horizonte, Katowice, Turin, Rotterdam, Saitama and Bloemfontein in the location list of English football's defeats and disasters: a worldwide travelogue of despair, each with its own painful memory.

This is not to forget England exited Euro 2012 in the same arena 15 months ago. But that was in the 12-yard lottery to Italy and no one expected much of Hodgson or his team back then. Having been summoned to the colours with a 999 call just weeks before the finals it was an achievement reaching that quarter-final.

This time, however, responsibility lay heavily on England's shoulders, the burden exacerbated by the usual crop of withdrawals.

The bitterest blow was losing Daniel Sturridge, in fine form for Liverpool. Hodgson, pointedly, mentioned after the Moldova match on Friday night that Sturridge had managed to play with his injury against Manchester United last weekend, having suffered it a few days earlier against Notts County, according to Hodgson, who then ruminated that "perhaps he'll be able to do the same for us". He did not, of course, and Hodgson will doubtless take a keen interest in whether his absent striker appears for Liverpool against Swansea on Monday.

Shorn of Sturridge, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll too, Hodgson sent Rickie Lambert into the fray, a veteran footballer but an international ingénue. Lambert has settled well at this level but found it tough as he was left far too isolated and too often fed on a diet of long-ball scraps. Fortunately for England, Ukraine were nervous and just as poor offensively.

England's sorties behind the old Iron Curtain, in desperate search of a result, had not always ended in tears and recriminations. Ron Greenwood was on the brink of resigning when England stunned Hungary 3-1 in Budapest in 1981. Just five years ago Capello shattered Croatia's hold over England with a 4-1 win in Zagreb, Theo Walcott's finest 90 minutes. Perhaps most impressively in 1987 Bobby Robson's England went to Belgrade needing a win to reach the European Championship and scored four times in the opening 25 minutes.

After that victory the Mirror declared: "England are on the march", adding they "can overwhelm the cream of Europe" at Euro 88 with "a shining trophy within England's grasp". Come the finals England lost all three matches. There will be no such tub-thumping should England qualify this time, and with reason.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins wins the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
(David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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.

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor