It has not been an overly successful October international window for England manager Gareth Southgate so far, as he would have desperately hoped for a far better victory over Australia in Friday’s arranged friendly, prior to Tuesday night’s Group C qualifier with Italy.
As the 90 minutes played out with a largely pathetic 1-0 win for an again lacklustre England side, a few players did come out with credit and Ollie Watkins and goalkeeper Sam Johnstone were two who were worthy of praise for their impact on the game. The main headline most will take is that Stephanie Frappart became the first female referee to take charge of 22 men at Wembley, and we can probably stop talking about the actual game there and just consider it the main takeaway highlight.
Unless fans want to delve into 67% possession that only resulted in nine shots, with three on target, and then cross that to Australia’s 33% of the ball, yet they produced 14 shots, with four on target. It may well have been a much changed side, but England are now beginning to embody Southgate’s own illogical and contradictory selection statements, as performances have very much turned into a left hand not quite knowing what the right hand has spent all week saying they would do.
The fact England could have been pegged back to a draw late on will leave many supporters even more frustrated with the efforts on the day. Those with a glass half full mentality will stick to the line that it was a much changed side, who dug deep to get a very morale boosting win ahead of the game that matters, Italy. Others will however, continue to wonder about what happened to the free flowing, no fear approach Southgate originally employed, where changes to the starting XI did not actually overly impact the performance as almost to a man, everyone in the group were on the same page with the game plan.
The others in this case, are already making their voices known. During the last international window Harry Maguire was the subject of some very over the top criticism and abuse, and some of that abuse cannot and should not be condoned in anyway and there are supposed fans out their who should be holding their heads in shame at what was said.
It does not mean there was not valid criticism though, and nor does it mean that some of that criticism was very much tied to Southgate’s own words on selection merit, regular playing time and playing at the highest level – similar criticism was true when he picked big name favourites hardly shining in the Championship, whilst ignoring those were tearing it up but were not owned by the supposed Top 6.
Jordan Henderson was again under fire in this one over his decision to move to the Saudi Arabia Pro League and Al-Ettifaq in total contradiction to England’s, and his own, regularly stated standpoints when it comes to discrimination and human rights.
He has offered valid reasons for that, but there will be a number of fans who think in both the Maguire and Henderson cases, there is a bit too much preaching and not enough follow through.