James Lawton: Crouch's face-saving intervention fails to cover up for Eriksson's scatter-gun approach

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The Independent Football

Sven Goran Eriksson's latest work in erratic progress - naturally launched in the very shadow of the World Cup - delivered a bonus that those who believe in building a football team rather than throwing it together rather as a drunken wedding guest tosses out confetti might consider rather less than thoroughly deserved.

It came when Peter Crouch - the one forward in the squad who carries the unique double quality of being both fully fit and having played in top-flight football - scored a goal of face-saving authority in the closing minutes of the 3-1 victory against Hungarians who were the saddest heirs to men like Puskas and Bozak.

The big man's turn and shot was accomplished enough to suggest that if Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen fail to find anything like working cutting edges before the end of the tournament, as the odds are suggesting ever more strongly, the England attack will have at least one point of potential threat.

But this was surely a slender haul for the £5m-a-year coach who seems determined to scrap every principle that has gone into winning a World Cup.

He is, by those classic standards, almost a version of a demented Duke of York, marching his troops up and down the hill. The trouble is the troops - and their roles - keep changing. Last night there remained far more questions than answers - a situation that has swollen grotesquely ever since Rooney went down grimacing.

Playing Jamie Carragher in the mythical holding role in midfield - for the first time in five years for England - was Eriksson's latest roll of the dice and naturally it caused another fever of tactical discussion.

The point, though, surely was not the oddity of the selection but its timing. Eriksson, true to form, was compressing two years of preparation, the time available to him since the confusions of the European Championship in Portugal, into another flurry of chance and speculation. His apologists would no doubt blame the injury to Rooney, but this is another absurdity. The almost certain loss of Rooney is no doubt a grievous blow, maybe even a calamity, but is scarcely an excuse for what is beginning to amount to an abandonment of any semblance of planning.

So you had to wonder what Eriksson's grand strategy might just be as he moves so close to the opening challenge against Paraguay in Frankfurt. It is a question that cannot be answered with any confidence. This is, after all, the coach who gave a place in his squad to Theo Walcott, untried, unseen - a boy, just possibly of the future, plunged crazily into a man's world.

Predictably enough, the Carragher experiment was shelved at half-time. Most of his masterplans are. Owen Hargreaves, who plays in deep midfield for his club Bayern Munich, came on in his natural position and was perhaps too stunned by this development to offer any serious opposition when Hungary's captain, Pal Dardai, set up a long shot that gave Paul Robinson no chance and cut into the lead that came when first Steve Gerrard, then John Terry met crosses from David Beckham.

So to what did the Eriksson experiment amount? Not much, and certainly nothing against the professionalism and character of Carragher. He did what he had to and if England shook themselves into more life when he moved back into the defensive lines this had most to do with the fact that Lampard and Gerrard began to operate less like separate football republics.

But then soon enough we had moved into a new phase of the Eriksson adventure - the pairing of Crouch and Walcott, making the astonishing jump into a full international game without so much as a taste of top-flight club football. The boy is of course quick. All the scouting reports said this, and he proved it with one bracing run down the right. He centred with some assurance. Plainly he has talent, but enough to sustain him in his absolute lack of experience, not in some friendly shuffle against the modestly ambitious Hungarians, but a full-blown World Cup? It was the leap of the unknown made official... just over a week before the serious action begins.

It was wild and worrying, and the more so as Hungary began to press for the equaliser in a match that could never mean anything this side of the bizarre.

Can Owen play alone up front? Will he find sufficient edge? Will Eriksson have the nerve to play young Walcott so far over his head in serious competition? Has Gerrard, for all the splendour of his rampaging from midfield, any serious idea of playing with his back to the ball? That last question provoked at least something of an answer, when Gerrard resumed a more familiar position and promptly started to look like a world-class player once again. But it was just one flash of certainty in the spiralling options of Eriksson.

Missing, as always, was the one that winning teams need like oxygen. It was giving his team the gift that is their due but looks as elusive as ever. It was giving them an understanding of who they are and what, when it matters most of all, they are expected to do.

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