It seems that no matter what he does, Roy Hodgson will always be damned with the tag of conservatism. Despite throwing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in to Euro 2012, Andros Townsend in to crucial World Cup qualifiers and a host of young players in his final 23, there will always be those who prefer to remember the man who seemed almost deferential to Manchester United during his ill fated reign as Liverpool manager.
England started this world cup as massive underdogs. The announcement of a group containing Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica was met with a cut throat gesture by FA Chairman Greg Dyke. Ahead of last night’s game with the Azzurri, England supporters were clamouring for Hodgson to throw the youngsters into the deep end to see how well they could swim in the Amazonian humidity. The general consensus was that it will be better for England to crash out of this tournament swinging from the hip as opposed to the plodding, tentative ineptitude of South Africa four years ago.
It was therefore, a pleasant surprise to see Hodgson and England throw caution to the wind last night and start with Liverpool’s highly rated youngster Raheem Sterling. His inclusion illuminated the first half and one early shot from long range that rippled the side netting had the broadcasters convinced that England were one nil ahead.
England’s performance as a whole was by far the most adventurous and enterprising in a major tournament match since the group stages of Euro 2004. Yet England still, agonisingly, lost the game. Herein, lies the catch 22 situation facing Roy Hodgson for the remaining two group games. Had he not started with Sterling and played an extra man in midfield, England might not have been caught out as easily as they were for either of Italy’s goals. Had England sacrificed their adventure for greater stability, the match would almost certainly have ended in a draw. England must beat Uruguay on Thursday night to have any chance of progressing to the knockout stages but defeat will see them almost certainly out. Do England continue with their attacking intent and risk defeat or do they go back into their shells? For the supporters there is no debate. Watching England on Saturday night was almost a cathartic experience. There was pride in the team’s performance and a sense that the players were connecting with the fans again after being so detached in South Africa. The feeling among England fans was that the defensive naivety and the defeat could be forgiven because of the courageous aspects of the performance. There is definitely a good way to lose and this was it.
If England continue in this attacking vein on Thursday night and still come up short then so be it. The fans will get behind a team that sets out to entertain. After so many years of seeing England go down with a whimper, it was perversely all the more upsetting to see them lose when playing well, And yet, at the same time, it was undoubtedly more uplifting.