Success tempered by problems with system
Ken Jones on a uncomfortable night for England's defence
Thursday 10 October 1996
England raised the support Glenn Hoddle called for, songs and all, but with 24 minutes played at Wembley last night they were a goal down and a newly formed defence was looking decidedly dodgy.
That the Polish captain, Piotr Nowak, was cleverly running the game in midfield added to England's problems.
The system Hoddle employed meant that Gary Neville, Gareth Southgate and Stuart Pearce were often called upon to cope single-handed with advancing attackers.
Anyone who gives some serious thought to what they see each week in the Premiership will not have been surprised by the sight of England's defenders struggling frequently to cope with the responsibility.
This was particularly evident when Poland took the lead after just six minutes.
The ball in from the right was pretty good, but England should have dealt with the danger. They had enough men on hand but Neville got sucked in on the cross and Marek Citko was left with plenty of time to put the ball past Seaman.
This confirmed that the new emphasis on attack in English football leaves a lot to be learned about high-quality defending.
Alan Shearer's two goals, the first after 25 minutes a result of poor goalkeeping, the second in the 37th minute a terrific shot from 20 yards, put a different complexion on things, but England seldom looked entirely comfortable with the formation Hoddle laid out for them. It was adventurous stuff but all too often the cause of anxiety.
Indeed, had Tomasz Hajto not missed a simple header when a corner kick reached him shortly before half-time the anxiety would have run deeper. There was also a great shot from Nowak that required a brilliant save from David Seaman.
A word here about Nowak who was unquestionably the game's outstanding player. For a long time now there has been a lot of terrace talk about total football. I've never been completely sure what the phrase means, something doubtless to do with dovetailing and versatility. But I know that it is what all inside-forwards are good at. Nowak, 32 would you believe, looks like what used to be known as a schemer and performed the role brilliantly.
The young players could learn from him. He was up and down, attacking one moment, defending the next. He is clever, strong and always purposeful. The puzzle is that he languished for a long time in the Polish Second Division and only came to the fore after going to Germany where he plays for 1860 Munich.
Shortly after the match I caught a glimpse of Sky Television, and was astonished to discover that Shearer had been made man of the match. Shearer played well enough, always unnerving the Polish defenders with his strength and aggression but to award him the accolade was the result either of jingoism or ignorance.
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