By Andrew Warshaw
September 5 – New manager, same old England – with one sharp difference. A last-gasp stroke of good fortune which perhaps augurs well for the future in terms of team building and confidence.
Any England fans hoping for a brave new dawn under Sam Allardyce after the debacle of Euro 2016 were left somewhat non-plussed in terms of the performance in their opening World Cup qualifier against Slovakia on Sunday, large parts of which were just as predictable and punchless as under his predecessor Roy Hodgson.
Allardyce had talked about the challenge of bringing pride back to England but despite a few tactical tweaks, most notably playing Wayne Rooney in a deeper role, it was all far too familiar even after the Slovaks were reduced to 10 men by the sending-off of skipper Martin Skrtel.
That is, until Adam Lallana struck his first goal for England on his 27th appearance with virtually the last kick of the game.
Having stated beforehand that he would be happy with a point, Allardyce fielded eight of the same 11 players who took on Slovakia in that sterile goalless draw at the Euros and it was hard to tell one fixture from the other until Skrtel was dismissed and England threw everything at the hosts in the latter stages.
Having said that, it would be unfair to judge Allardyce on one game. England have made a habit of easing through qualifying, only to come up woefully short when it really matters. Allardyce will know this better than anyone and not until Russia 2018 will anyone be truly able to tell – unless England’s pattern of play changes radically and they turn into a team of incisiveness and beauty – whether he can inspire his team to greater things than Hodgson and a raft of other managers who came before.
In the meantime, enjoying loads of possession but sometimes having to win ugly may become a familiar theme, coupled with the fact that once again England have got lucky with the quality – or lack of it – of their group and will only come up against formidable opposition when the crunch comes in just under two years.
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