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.
Latest in Sport
Arsenal transfer news: Arsene Wenger 'optimistic' of making signing, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Edinson Cavani linked
Manchester United have two days to seal the transfer of the summer, Arsenal need to panic, Jose Mourinho right to blast Chelsea reluctance
Celtic supporters mock Fenerbahce fans' threatening 'knife' pictures with their own versions - featuring spoons and bananas
Swansea 2 Manchester United 1 player ratings: Was Andre Ayew the Swans' star man or did Bafetimbi Gomis steal the show?
Swansea City 2 Manchester United 1: Louis van Gaal walks out of press conference after being asked about transfers
- 1 VMAs 2015: Was Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus' awkward acceptance put-down real or staged?
- 2 If you're not already angry about the migrant crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
- 3 Rules on 5p plastic bags likely to lead to arguments at the check-out
- 4 I like Corbyn, but let's face it: we don't need another white man at the head of a political party
- 5 Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...
£8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exceptional opportunity has arisen for a pa...
£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of designer kitch...