Friday, 27 May 2016

England 2 v Australia 1 - International Match

Friday 27th May 2016
International Match
at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland AFC
England (1) 2
Marcus Rashford 3
Wayne Rooney 55
Australia (0) 1
Eric Dier OG 75
Attendance 46,595
A sell out crowd converged on the Stadium Light for this second in a series of three Euro 2016 warm up games, which culminates with Portugal's visit to Wembley on Thursday night.
Apparently, using different stadiums and taking the England team out on the road, is all part of Roy Hodgson's planning strategy, as he tries to create a 'tournament feel' to this final dress rehearsal run of practice matches, whilst remaining on home soil.
Having first watched England in the flesh when Cyprus visited Wembley in 1975, I've subsequently witnessed more false dawns than most, but tonight also marked one of my final ever 'live' games, as I retire gracefully and look forward towards my big comfy sofa for the foreseeable, to only watch England matches on the telly in future.
But I'll say more on that subject in the footnote to this report.
Having won three and drawn two of their previous encounters in Antipodean climes against Australia, England were embarrassingly turned over at Upton Park (or the Boleyn Ground if you're a pendantic Hammer) by three goals to one on the only occasion prior to tonight that the two sides have faced each other on English soil, back in February 2003.
I still wake up in the middle of the night sweating, to this day, traumatized and disturbed by the fact that I was silly enough to spend £45 on a ticket for that particular game at West Ham United's ground.
If I ever bumped into Sven Goran Eriksson (and I only missed him by a couple of minutes in Nottingham a few years ago), I would still happily give him a bloody nose, for the way he allowed that night in the East End to descend into a circus parade of wives and girlfriends, such was the hullabaloo surrounding the so called 'Spice Boys' and 'golden generation' of the time... and I'd probably break his glasses too, in lieu of  that really crap performance in Belfast.
Deep breaths, think pure thoughts... and move swiftly on.
Mind your fingers pal!
Jordan Henderson was a ball boy the last time England played a game in Sunderland, there are those among my circle of 'football friends' who say he would still be better deployed in that role. But the local lad made good got a rousing reception from his home crowd tonight, while Andros Townend, currently strutting his stuff for relegated Newcastle United these days, most certainly didn't, in spite of him injecting dome fresh impetus into the later stages of the game.
In the not so distant past, when the question on everyone's lips seemed to be: "Gerrard or Lampard?", my reaction would always be: "Either, as long as they've got Jordan Henderson to do their running and fetching for them".
The vast majority of his work is understated and goes unnoticed a lot of the time, but the calibre of managers who have selected and signed Henderson, does suggest that he must bring something to the table and that they're paying attention and not swayed by any hype.
Digressing slightly for a moment, the other correct answer to the Gerrard/Lampard conundrum is: "Paul Scholes", but that goes without saying really.
Of course, both Lampard and Gerrard were quality players, but the big guns soon run out of ammunition without the grafters, sappers and powder monkeys keeping them topped up.
That would also explain James Milner's international career to the untrained eye.
The atmosphere at tonight's game put that at last week's Ethiad Stadium fixture to shame and the Australian contingent in the tier above us certainly played their part. 
The ambiance was helped along still further by the cheery and laid back approach to stewarding at the Stadium of Light, which made a refreshing change to some of the wannabe thug-boy 'robo-cops' you get at certain grounds, with no man management capabilities or social skills whatsoever, whose sole purpose on planet earth, seems to be fulfilling a lifetime's ambition to be a knee jerk reactionary spoilsport.
So credit where it's due and well done to the SAFC stewards and staff.
I really like this Stadium and how easily accessible it is from the town centre, it also got the thumbs up from my missus, who likes anywhere that is within walking distance of Nandos. 
I must confess, that despite them having been crowned 'Champions of Asia' last year, I had only ever heard of one of the Australian side tonight... and that was Tomas Rojic, who is on the radar of several top European sides; which must be nice for him, given that he currently plies his trade in the Scottish Premier League, with a bit part Glaswegian side called Celtic.
So the team from 'down under' were something of an unknown quantity to me... and I should imagine the vast majority of other people in the ground, including a good number of the England players.
As it turned out, they were a quick footed, pressing side, who exposed a few frailties in Roy Hodgson's sides defence, but while they did well as regards making all of the right runs in critical areas, they lack any quality in front of goal and couldn't put the finishing touches to all of their movement and guile, but Eric Dier gave them a hand in that department.
But in mitigation and support of Dier, at least he was in the thick of it, trying to defend England's goal, when he headed Milek Degenek's right wing cross past Fraser Forster to half England's lead.
It was a blip in an otherwise accomplished season for the Tottenham midfielder... and hopefully he won't be hung out to dry and vilified for his error, like players of the ilk of Tony Adams have been in the past.
Dier would be in my starting eleven when the Euro 16 tournament kicks off for real... but not as a defender.
Although I do fully understand Hodgson's apparent experimentation of trying out certain players out of position, inasmuch as: he already knows what they are capable of in their own roles; obviously that is why he selected them in the first place, but he needs to know can provide cover if and when there is a genuine need for change during a match situation. It's a belt and braces policy... and people would do well to recognise this experimentation for what it really is and adopt the mindset that this is one of the reasons why these sort of warm-up, practice games are arranged in the first place. It's no good finding out who can/can't adapt once the team arrive in France and start their Euro 2016 campaign in earnest.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail, as the saying goes.
After withstanding a scare in the first minute, when the Brisbane Roar strike Jamie Maclaren, forced Forster into an error and almost took advantage on his international debut, Marcus Rashford showed him how it was done at the other end, when he drilled the ball past Matt Ryan inside the third minute, thus beating Tommy Lawton's record, that has stood for 77 years, for being the youngest player to ever score in a first team England international.
Just 92 days after making his first team debut at Manchester United, Rashford has crashed onto the scene with a cataclysmic bang... and he is still only 18 years old.
Obviously, he has a big future in the game and it's been proven time and time again, that if you're good enough, you're old enough. 
Deeply Dippy!
'Right Said Fred' spotted out together in Wearside,
sparking reunion tour rumours.
Rashford was also involved to the build up, providing the pass to Raheem Sterling (who actually played very well tonight), for him to lay the ball into the path of Wayne Rooney who crashed an unstoppable 18 yard net bulging shot past Ryan, but will Hodgson tether the youngster and unleash him on unsuspecting opposition defences in France?
It's a rhetorical question by the way, I'm not going to answer it... and, although the viewing figures for this self indulgent, bullshit blog, with added football content, are going off the scale of late; I doubt very much if Mr Hodgson, Ray Lewington and the other members of national team's advisory body give ever actually read THE66POW.
And I don't blame them either!
When he was switched to operate from a wider position tonight, Rashford wasn't anywhere near as effective as he is in front of goal... and this would explain why he looked out of sorts, when I saw him playing in a similar role against Canada in an Under 20 international at Doncaster Rovers Keepmoat Stadium, seven weeks ago, because the development teams have been adopting the same DNA as the first team since Hodgson's appointment to the England hot seat in 2012.
But this demonstrates that he must be very much in the national team mangers thinking.
One player who did disappoint me tonight, particularly after giving putting in his best performance in an England shirt against Turkey last week, was Jack Wilshere, who never really got going before Hodgson substituted him at half time, along with Lallana, who was covering every blade of grass in the opening 45 minutes.
Although England still have one more game to fine tune things in, on Thursday against Portugal at Wembley, this 'friendly' at the Stadium of Light, was actually the last chance for anybody to force the issue as regards the final squad selection, because the tournament 23, thinned down from 26, needs to be submitted to the regulating body by Tuesday.
Doubtless, their are millions of people with an opinion regarding who should make the final cut and why... and it might be worth turning all of your social media apps if you don't want your phone to go into meltdown mode.
There is an old saying, that goes something along the lines of: You can please some of the people, some of the time, but you'll never please all of the people all of the time. At this juncture you could probably add a line and say: And if you're the England manager you'll never please anyone, ever.
Especially when another old adage is so apt when looking back at the 'quality' of some of the national sides that have represented this country over the years, i.e: "You can only piss with the cock you've got!"
Roy Hodgson gets paid well for what he does; but in my humble opinion, regardless of how the national side fare in France, where they could be dark horses and pleasantly surprise us all (but, of course, there is always a massive risk that they won't), Hodgson has done a quite remarkable job of transforming the national team set up and deserves a massive amount of credit for salvaging the England squad and pointing them 'sort of'' in the right direction.
There will be no silky Samba skills, no total football and no technical robotic efficiency on show from 'Roys boys' in France, because this England side don't try to be anything they're not, or copy how other countries style themselves.
'Roy' knows his players strengths and more importantly, their weaknesses and has invented a way of playing around both of those factors. Fingers crossed.
The opportunity to illustrate the proof of the pudding is waiting just over the horizon, as England embark on another major tournament... what could possibly go wrong!?
I've enjoyed Hodgson's reign in charge thus far, even when the team has ground out results in a horses for course fashion at times, like tonight for example... and I'm very grateful that he has pulled the team round from the what looked like a rocket sled ride short cut to the football wilderness.
The England side is a work in progress and it's going to be a BIG job, but the foundations are there now, whoever ends up finishing the task.
Will England win EURO 2016?
Don't be silly!
They're still advancing forward using small steps, not massive strides.
I've said previously that they'll never win another major tournament in my lifetime... and although I was alive in 1966, I wasn't old enough to remember it.
I'd be elated if they could excel themselves this time out and prove me wrong of course, but they haven't really done that very often over the last 40 plus years.
FT: England 2 v Australia 1
I won't be at Wembley for the Portugal game, in fact, I probably won't be attending very many international games at all in future.
The logistics, costs and time involved are starting to catch up with me these days.
I doff my hat to those who still manage to follow the England team (home and away) full time, but if I'm being perfectly honest, practical and realistic, there are times when the endless late night motorway hold ups and lengthy train journeys, aren't very appealing to me any more, not that they ever were mind you..
Thing is, I got old this year, with a vengeance!
Going forward, there will still always be the occasional visit to an England game in the pipeline, it's in my blood, when all is said and done; quite literally, the tattoo pictured above has pride of place on my left arm. But my future attendance at the international matches, will only be on a part time cameo role basis.
I'm a tired (but seldom grumpy) old Hector!