England overcame arch-rivals Scotland 3-2 at Wembley last night in an entertaining friendly match.
There were worrying signs for Roy Hodgson and his coaching staff though. Twice Scotland took the lead, as England looked vulnerable at the back.
First of all I must give Scotland credit for their spirited performance, against a team that are rated as far superior to them in the world rankings.
The Scots showed the sort of passion and endeavour that is usually missing in friendly matches.
It was obvious that the game meant a lot to the massive Tartan Army following and the Scotland players responded with a really good performance.
Prior to the match the so called experts were talking about the weakness at the heart of the Scotland defence, as centre-back pairing Russell Martin and Grant Hanley had won just 12 caps between them.
To be honest they did not have the worse games in the world and could form a really decent partnership. It was shakiness in the England defence which will be concerning Roy Hodgson. Scotland looked dangerous whenever they came forward and England looked vulnerable.
Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill are very good defenders, but as a pair they have yet to convince that they are the ones to take up the mantle of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand. However, it was not just the centre-backs that can be blamed for the shakiness in defence.
Both England full-backs Leighton Baines and Kyle Walker like to attack more than defend and both got caught up field at times creating space for the Scots to attack. Neither can claim to be world-class defenders, but they are very good full-backs. Baines was almost playing as a left-winger at times, something he frequently does at Everton.
Walker and Baines may not be in the next England starting line-up anyway. Chelsea’s Ashley Cole is likely to replace Baines in the upcoming qualifying games, while Walker has competition from Liverpool’s Glen Johnson for his spot in the team.
Johnson is another full-back who is better going forward than defending. However, he does have slightly more experience than the young Spurs star.
England’s midfield three of Jack Wilshere, Steven Gerrard and Tom Cleverley did not quite work. None of the trio could be considered a traditional defensive midfielder, or anchor man.
Throughout his career Gerrard has been considered as a box-to-box player, Wilshere is at his best when he is driving at the opposition, while Cleverley still needs to prove his quality with both club and country, but set up Theo Walcott’s goal last night.
England lacked a defensive midfielder in last night’s match and against the top teams in the world could be punished for such a weakness. Wilshere if fit and Gerrard look to be England boss Roy Hodgson’s first choice in the centre of midfield.
Maybe Hodgson needs to find a more defensive midfielder to sit, while Gerrard and Wilshere go forward. The likes of Scott Parker and Gareth Barry have appeared in the position in recent times. Barry enjoyed a decent end to his season at Manchester City last season, while injury problems meant Parker’s chances for Spurs were restricted.
Both have received criticism for their performances for England, but to lend a phrase from Eric Cantona, England need a water carrier in the centre of midfield to win the ball back. Wilshere and Gerrard can tackle, but it is not their biggest strength.
If they go forward they need a player behind them to shield the defence from the opposition attack. Despite being good players Cleverley, Wilshere and Gerrard seemed to struggle to share the defensive duties in last night’s game and England were punished for it.
There was a positive for England though, as Southampton striker Rickie Lambert scored with his first touch in international football. The 31-year-old striker finally got his chance for England and took it with aplomb, bulleting a head pass Allan McGregor in the Scotland goal.
In fact, Lambert could have had a hat-trick, as the striker hit the post and fired straight at Scotland keeper McGregor late-on. However, I am sure the former-Rochdale forward will still be happy with the effect he had on the game, after coming on as a substitute for Wayne Rooney.
Lambert has been unlucky that it has taken so long for a call-up to the England squad. Last season he found the net 15 times for Southampton, but was ignored by England boss Hodgson. Lambert’s call-up to the squad for the Scotland game was aided by the fact West Ham’s Andy Carroll and Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge were ruled out of the game through injury.
If both had been fit Lambert probably would not have been included in the squad. The Southampton striker has now definitely put himself in the frame for future appearances for the Three Lions, even if he is only used as an impact substitute. Lambert definitely has something to offer the England team.
England boss Roy Hodgson certainly has a lot of work ahead of him to ensure that his team make it to the World Cup next year. If they do, then performances will have to improve and solutions will need to be found by Hodgson or the Three Lions will be coming home very early from Brazil.
Did England play well against Scotland?