James Lawton: Steven Gerrard must regain control for Roy Hodgson to limit damage

Captain's inspirational qualities go missing on night England began to restore order

Roy Hodgson was right to believe he scored a kind of triumph in Oslo and soon enough it was confirmed by the headline "The Roy [not Woy, please note] Done Good".

He did too. He orchestrated a team performance of sufficient organisation to suggest England will be something rather more than the rabble that circumstances might easily have fashioned in less experienced hands so close to the start of the European Championship.

What the new manager couldn't do, unfortunately, was something that you had to suspect would have been beyond a committee of Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and any other genius manager you might care to mention.

He couldn't make his job – at least in the foreseeable future and as it has been pitched to him in such shambolic circumstances – look anything more than a massive exercise in damage control.

The problem is that this England, unlike the one that thumped another poor Norwegian team 6-1 on their way to World Cup victory 46 years ago, simply doesn't have enough vaguely world-class players or leaders – and this is not likely to change sufficiently when the heroes of Chelsea roll up and Wayne Rooney has served his two-game suspension.

Hodgson, after all, has been clear enough that Steven Gerrard is in his mind the outstanding candidate for the captaincy after the stripping of John Terry and his own decision to leave Rio Ferdinand at home.

It is a call that may be redeemed in the coming weeks because no one can dispute the inspirational qualities Gerrard can find when he hits his best vein of form. Disappointingly, this didn't happen when he filled in for Terry and Ferdinand in the World Cup two years ago – and certainly it didn't in Oslo on Saturday night.

Even when you put on one side the hare-brained tackle that put Norway's Tom Hogli out of the game and might have easily led to a red card and England going a man down halfway through one of Hodgson's only two full-scale opportunities to shape his starting line-up against France in two weeks, Gerrard really didn't begin to look the part.

After assuring the public that the job had already been "sorted" by the new regime, his early nervousness gave way to something much more disturbing. It was a near total failure to produce anything that smacked of authority. In a player long lauded as one of the world's leading midfielders, Gerrard's most impressive asset has always been his ability to break open games with the impact of explosive talent.

In Oslo such a force of nature went missing and it was a fact bleak enough before he launched himself at the unfortunate Hogli. Hodgson, unsurprisingly, went into defensive mode immediately, disputing hard the suggestion of Roy Keane – something of a connoisseur of the rash tackle – that if Gerrard pulled anything like it in the Euros he would be in receipt of a red card.

"You just can't afford to tackle like that at international level," announced Keane, whose greatest achievement while winning 67 caps for the Republic of Ireland was almost certainly fighting his way to the 2002 World Cup against the Netherlands and doing it virtually on one leg. It was such a superb feat that it seemed a shame that he almost immediately walked out on the team after telling Mick McCarthy that he was a "crap coach" just as he had been a "crap player".

Hodgson, though, wasn't having any of Keane's analysis, declaring: "It was a fair tackle. There was no intent to injure the player and Stevie's studs were not up. It was a strong, brave challenge and the type I hope our players put in at the Euros because it shows their commitment." As John McEnroe might have put it, he cannot have been serious; at least not unless he is ready for some extremely thinresources even before Wayne Rooney clears off his two-game suspension.

Hodgson was, of course, going to defend his newly appointed captain, and in the end it didn't too seriously lower the pass mark he earned for his generally accomplished handling of a night which had the promise of the kind of ambush in a place which once left the distinguished Ron Greenwood at the mercy of a Norwegian broadcaster's unforgettable ravings after a World Cup qualifying defeat. It was also in Scandinavia where another of Hodgson's predecessors received the heaviest pillorying of all after England's 2-1 exit at the hands of Sweden in the 1992 European Championship. Graham Taylor's head was superimposed on a turnip and the scoreline read Swedes 2, Turnips 1.

Ashley Young ensured that Hodgson was never in danger of such a fate when he scored cleverly, albeit against defence of a naivety unlikely to be glimpsed against France, and if the England performance did fall away sharply against the world's 25th-ranked nation, there had been some promising early evidence of a team in no doubt about how it was expected to play.

Revolution wasn't in the air, reasonably enough, but Andy Carroll, Joleon Lescott and stand-by flyer Phil Jagielka all suggested they might well make valuable contributions in Ukraine.

Where Hodgson needs to go before the final workout against Belgium is the boldness department, where he will find most vitally Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. If England ticked some boxes concerning a degree of coherence, it was an increasing struggle to find one against something to do with the boldness of self-belief that the young Arsenal midfielder has come to represent on his limited opportunities at Arsenal.

In Oslo he made a late arrival but it was a swaggering one that was a welcome reminder of how a team, any team, can benefit from someone who doesn't look about tojump out of his skin. Few young players can ever have inhabited their own space quite so comfortably. Eight years ago a teenaged Rooney took hold of the European Championship before he was hit by injury. This is a long time towait for any similar stirring of the blood.

Stats magic

20: Years since England last found the net against Norway

1980: England's victory was their first over Norway since a 4-0 success in World Cup qualifying 32 years ago

14: Years since England lost a match in the month of May – to Belgium on penalties in 1998

9: Combined goals and assists by Ashley Young in his last nine appearances for England

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
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

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot