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John Brewin profile picture Posted by John Brewin
Jun 4, 2014

Mixed fortunes for England

Lambert and Rooney scored for England in Miami.

Mind your backs

Phil Jones and Chris Smalling's chance to show they were the England centre-backs of the future fell flat as soon as Ecuador's ninth minute goal came from the type of opportunity that English centre-halves are supposed to be good at dealing with. Walter Ayoví's cross dipped over both of them, with Smalling made to look especially flat-footed as Enner Valencia headed in. Fears about Luke Shaw's defensive nous could also be raised as he was rather slow to sniff the danger when covering Smalling, his nearest centre-back.

Meanwhile, goalkeeper Ben Foster was repeatedly found out on safari when Ecuador attacked. The first was ill-advised, the second a well-chosen charge to smother Jefferson Montero, whose run had bisected the middle of England's defence once again. A third in the first half was the result, like the others, of Smalling and Jones misreading the offside trap and Foster having to bail them out.

This was panicky stuff, and looked just as it was: a unit that had never yet played together before. James Milner did not look a full back, either, even if he has been tried in that position before for his country. After Glen Johnson's Friday foibles, has the right of England's defence become the Achilles heel? Gary Neville, one of his country's finest ever players in that role, may need to start earning his coaching corn.

Centrally, Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka may not possess the star quality of predecessors John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, but on this evidence, they are just as important. There is a distinct lack of quality below them, even if Jones, with typical reckless bravery, did begin to find his feet as the game went on: Smalling still looked lost. Hodgson could rightly argue that this was a reserve team selection, but what if he needs to call on these reserve defenders?

In mitigation for that out-of-sorts backline, they were rarely offered much help by the players in front of them. When Michael Arroyo scored Ecuador's second goal with a superb strike, he was given time to take aim by some slack covering from Jack Wilshere and Milner, by now restored to midfield.

Wilshere looked to struggle with the conditions, and later limped off, while Frank Lampard's fitness faded. After all, he is 36. Ross Barkley's sense of adventure from the nominal no. 10 role left the others with extra work to do, and none seemed to have the necessary qualities to do it.

The surge of youth

Raheem Sterling, who stood out as a substitute against Peru last week, was again left on the bench and  is the only outfield player not to have started either of England's warmup games. Perhaps he is being held back as a cunning secret weapon. After all, Italy or Uruguay are unlikely to have noticed his outstanding performances in the Premier League, are they? In Miami, he came on in the 65th minute for Wayne Rooney, but only briefly, as a sending off for a contretemps with Antonio Valencia threw the shroud of secrecy back over him.

The scouts watching may now know a little more of Barkley, that other wild-card wonderkid. Charges from deep and ambitious attempts on goal were all present and correct. One first-half surge had the hallmarks of his outstanding Everton form, but then the pass to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was delayed too long. The 52nd minute saw him stage a repeat performance, but this time the pass to Rickie Lambert was as perfect as the striker's resulting finish to make it 2-1.

Oxlade-Chamberlain, another callow type, had looked as if his fitness was returned after missing the climax of Arsenal's season. England's hopes of success surely lie with rapid attacking play so Barkley and "the Ox" showing off such abilities was a decent marker. However, when Oxlade-Chamberlain left the field after sustaining a knee injury, the thrill was somewhat dampened.

Rooney's goal levelled for England following Enner Valencia's opener.

Rooney on the fringes

Wayne Rooney out on the left wing, then. In these days of voguish inverted wingers, he seemed unwilling to open out the angle to shoot from, as is the habit of the role's finest exponents, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, or even lesser talents like his Manchester United colleague, Ashley Young. Instead, when Barkley supplied a fine early through-ball to the makeshift flank-forward, Rooney chose the outside of his right foot. For a player whose left foot is actually not as bad as many of modern football's one-footed wonders, this was disappointing.

The new role did bear fruit with a goal, scored from a position to the left of Lambert. Actually, he was only about two inches to the striker's left, as both hacked at a loose ball. Rooney's was his 39th goal, and surely scruffiest, goal for his country and the celebration was suitably apologetic.

Its manner was hardly enough to end doubts, and neither was his clear discomfort with this new role. When offered licence to roam, he wandered right and was suddenly much more involved. He looked happier, too. His departure for Sterling followed a contribution to the second half that was fitful, and involved that same switching of positions.

Rickie's reverie

Life just bounces for Rickie Lambert. Having this week achieved a lifetime's dream in finally becoming a Liverpool first-teamer, he has become a parable for the honest professional in the lower leagues. He also looks a more than decent option for Roy Hodgson's World Cup finals campaign.

The crispness of his finish for England's second goal was evidence of a player brimming with confidence. These are often the type of players who flourish at major tournaments. Dr. Steve Peters, England's psychologist, would probably agree that a happy footballer is usually a more effective player. Hodgson should not be afraid to use a player it seemed he was not fully confident in until it became clear that Andy Carroll was not up to the job.

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