Solid but unspectacular England just the tonic for Hodgson
A 1-0 win against an underwhelming Norway side might not at first seem so, but Roy Hodgson will today have woken up knowing that his debut could not have gone much better.
For not only did he register a win, therefore ensuring that those in the media ready to produce the knives at the first sign of despair will have to wait another day, but the somewhat scrappy and unspectacular nature of the victory also means that expectations for England success this summer remain low, and keeps the pressure off his players.
“More than reasonable” was how the new boss described it, and it’s difficult to disagree, for there were more than a few positives Hodgson could have taken from his largely experimental side.
Andy Carroll may have been short of service for much of the game, but when he did receive the ball to feet and in the air, he showed the deft of touch he’d previously been known for at Newcastle but had been so missing while playing in Liverpool red for much of last season.
Then there was the goalscorer, Ashley Young, who suggested he could well be the man, rather than Gerrard, who is employed to float behind the main frontman. He linked up well with Carroll, particularly in the first half, and his jinking and dribbling made a mockery of a defence boasting the well-regarded Brede Hangeland for the first goal.
Young is 7/1 to finish England’s top scorer at the Euros and, given that 6/1 fav Wayne Rooney will miss the first two games, his willingness to get forward and support Carroll could tempt many to plump for him – particularly as among his main rivals, Welbeck (6/1) is struggling for fitness while Gerrard (6/1) is likely to sit deeper should Young be employed in attack.
Elsewhere, James Milner and Stewart Downing were quiet for much of the game, though Downing’s darting left wing run early on nearly crafted the opening goal when Carroll should have done better with a header.
It was the sort of winger and front man link-up that Kenny Dalglish had no doubt envisaged when he brought both players to Anfield, though Hodgson’s decision to employ Downing on the left offered further evidence to those who claimed Dalglish was not getting the best out of Downing by selecting him on the opposite flank.
With Gareth Barry a new injury doubt and further news expected on Welbeck’s fitness, England’s next friendly against Belgium on Saturday will offer further clues as to just how England may line-up against France in their first Euro 2012 encounter. England are 7/4 to make it out of group D, but remain outside shots at 9/1 to win the Euros (8/1 to finish runner-up).