Comment: Time for the tandem act of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard to come to an end for England

The duplication of their midfield roles makes England look one-paced

The well-being of Andros Townsend before Tuesday night’s final qualifier at Wembley is suddenly a matter of concern. How quickly the scene shifts in football. Friday’s shock selection was Tuesday’s talking point for different reasons. The thought that he might be absent through an injury reported on Saturday was a source of some disappointment before an upbeat report on his fitness during training on Monday lifted spirits.

The vibrant performance of the  22-year-old debutant from Tottenham Hotspur is symbolic of the mood swing in the England camp under Roy Hodgson. They go into the deciding fixture against Poland on a rising tide of renewal, invigorated by the injection of fresh blood and a result against Montenegro that demonstrated what is possible when the chains come off this team. The question is: did Hodgson go far enough?

Though England found their trigger points early in the second half, there were moments in the first, acknowledged by captain Steven Gerrard, when they ran into the same ceiling that so often limits them and the crowd  became restless. There was no shortage of effort or desire, but as hard as they shoved, there was no ground gained. 

At the heart of the failure to break Montenegro down early was the midfield dynamic that has sorely troubled this generation. Gerrard is an exceptional footballer. No midfielder has proved more effective attacking the box than Frank Lampard since Bryan Robson was in his pomp but when they are paired together in deep midfield the duplication of roles makes England look one-paced in a part of the pitch that requires invention as well as industry.

Hodgson is probably too far down the qualification road to split that pairing tonight, valuing as he does the  experience that comes with 207 caps combined, but if England are truly to tap into this new-found enthusiasm and justify claims that there really is a pool of young talent worthy of our hopes in Brazil next year then tonight must be the beginning of the end for the Gerrard/Lampard axis.

Some might recall how England  experienced a rapid upgrade in performance and morale when injury and suspension forced Bobby Robson to rethink his team at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. After defeat to Portugal England were labouring against Morocco when Captain Fantastic Robson’s shoulder popped out and Ray Wilkins was sent off. The team’s central cog was ripped out to be replaced by Glenn Hoddle and Peter Reid. England escaped with a goalless draw in Monterrey but in the next match they smashed tonight’s opponents 3-0 with a Gary Lineker hat-trick.

Lineker has become the voice of  dissent among the football aristocracy, imploring Hodgson to be bold after the bore draw in Ukraine. He has some  expertise in the transformation business, cracking a double against Paraguay in the last 16 to take England to the quarter-finals, an outcome that looked at best unlikely after the opening defeat. It took the Hand of God plus, in his mortal incarnation as Diego Maradona, arguably the greatest goal ever scored to see off the English challenge.

Almost three decades on Hodgson finds himself with a similar dilemma. The players he trusts most in the heart of the pitch are those whose potential has been exhausted. We know how matters end when Stevie G and Lamps share space in major tournaments. Hodgson has also shown with the inclusion of Townsend over James Milner down the right that he values flair and youth, which ought to ease Jack Wilshere’s frustrations should he be asked to start on the bench again tonight.

Wilshere was given only 10 minutes on Friday. Hodgson acknowledged the decision to leave him out was not easy. “All the midfield players are in contention. They were for the first game [Montenegro]. We have fantastic players in that part of the field. Frank and Steven did exceptionally well. It was heartache not to pick another combination, which we know will do the job for us.”

Hodgson has been at pains to strike the right tone, to balance the contradictory impulses to freshen and conserve. We should not expect wholesale changes at the outset but the manager might have to sharpen the knife sooner than he would like if the goals do not come against a Poland side  notionally superior to Montenegro. Though he has banished all negativity, Hodgson has not discounted the possibility that the result could go against his team. “I don’t think I could put a more confident bunch on the field,” he said. “But it’s not a science. It’s a game and something untoward can always happen.”

Haunted by the memory of the 2007 defeat to Croatia in the final qualifying match for Euro 2008, an episode he describes as the lowest point of his career, Gerrard, too, is thinking only of victory. The England captain speaks of the night-and-day difference in atmosphere on the eve of this match. England were shorn of key players six years ago and beset by a mindset that could never quite shed the crippling undertow of fear.

“I don’t think it [pressure] will ever disappear totally. There’s a huge expectation among the fans. But the word fear isn’t helpful. There is pressure, but you’ve got to be excited by games like this, being in this position. I’m looking forward to the game. I think, at times, the team has played with too much fear and pressure on, but Roy has created an atmosphere that is very relaxed but very professional, and he has shown the trust in the players.”

Townsend was the 50th player selected by Hodgson. The net shrinks with victory tonight. Hodgson knows the core of the squad that might advance on Brazil, though he is allowing for a bolter from the Under-21s to make a case for inclusion. You can take that as an invitation to Ravel Morrison to continue to build on the promise he has shown at West Ham this season. Should Morrison continue to serve up YouTube exhibitions like the one against San Marino last week the decision to retire the Gerrard/Lampard tandem will make itself. 

News
Pro-Russia rebels guard a train containing the bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 crash in Torez, Ukraine
i100
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
News
people
News
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
news
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
tvWebsite will allow you to watch all 522 shows on-demand
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Rock to play DC character in superhero film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Damon Albarn is starting work on a new West End musical
artsStar's 'leftfield experimental opera' is turning mainstream
Life and Style
Paul and his father
artsPaul Carter wants to play his own father in the film of his memoirs
Sport
Ben Stokes trudges off after his latest batting failure for England as Ishant Sharma celebrates one of his seven wickets
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
Members of the public are invited to submit their 'sexcapades' to Russell T Davies' new series Tofu
tv
News
Sky's Colin Brazier rummages through an MH17 victim's belongings live on air
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
arts + ents'The Imitation Game' stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley
Caption competition
Caption competition
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.

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor