Roy Hodgson ran down the Wembley steps with his hands in the air and a smile so wide, you would’ve assumed he achieved world peace.
It was a massive night for the English national team, and anything less than three points at home would be deemed a disappointment. Yet, prior to kickoff, all the headlines were focused on Hodgson handing 22-year-old Andros Townsend his senior debut. It was an ambitious decision, yet one that was completely logical, considering his attacking prowess and James Milner was the only wide option available.
Townsend has been a key cog in Andre Villas-Boas’ side, giving Spurs a direct threat from the right flank. Townsend is a wide attacker that possesses the confidence to run with the ball and drive at defenders. According to whoscored.com, Townsend averages a league high 5.5 dribbles and 4.3 shots per game. In a match where England needed goals – along with playing against a defensive minded opponent – Townsend produced an inspiring performance, and was England’s standout player.
Hodgson, known for his cautious approach thus far as England manager knew what was at stake, and fielded arguably his best quartet available. Daniel Sturridge played in front of Wayne Rooney, while Danny Welbeck played on the opposite flank of Townsend. More so, it was an attack filled with club combinations, which ultimately led to England’s best result in some time.
The most successful combination came down the right flank where Tottenham Hotspur duo Townsend and Kyle Walker encountered a large amount of success. Townsend constantly attacked Montenegrin left back Milan Jovanovic, while his tactical intelligence saw him drift centrally to allow Walker to surge forward – as Vladimir Volkov ignored his defensive duties. Walker’s inclusion at right back was beneficial to Townsend, as he’s comfortable playing ahead of the England right back, which settled any nerves he might’ve possessed prior to kickoff.
Townsend’s impact in the first half was integral – The 22-year-old winger constantly cut inside to test the goalkeeper, as Hodgson’s men struggled to break down an organized Montenegrin side that preferred to sit deep. Yet, Townsend continued to dazzle in the second half, and in the 48th minute he played a significant role in Rooney’s opener. Townsend received the ball near his 18-yard box and produced a powerful run to the byline – skipping past Jovanovic and Elsad Zverotic – and delivered a ball into the box that fell to Welbeck, and led to Rooney’s tap in.
However, in the 78th minute Townsend was rewarded for his attacking contribution. Welbeck dispossessed Simon Vukcevic and played a pass to Townsend 10-yards ahead of the halfway line. Townsend brushed off Vukcevic and ran at the heart of the Montenegrin backline – Montenegro’s defenders backed off, allowing the 22-year-old winger to fire a venomous shot past Vukasin Poleksic to claim all three points.
Hodgson’s decision to give Townsend a start took courage that his recent predecessors have failed to display. Frankly, if Townsend can work on his defensive duties over the next few months, a starting spot wouldn’t be farfetched. His direct style of play would be successful in a side that struggles to sustain possession, and focuses on defensive solidity and organization, as they play on the counter.
Nevertheless, his senior debut transpiring in a monumental qualifier is significant because it now opens another avenue for England – one that would potentially be overlooked had Townsend failed.
An avenue that needs to be assessed in the central midfield area, as Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard were partnered in midfield for the umpteenth time. While they didn’t have a poor outing – due to Montenegro’s cautious approach, which meant they’d rarely get overran in midfield – neither asserted their dominance on the match.
Michael Carrick’s second half introduction lifted England’s overall performance. Although, tired legs could’ve played a factor, his ability to win tackles, intercept passes, and penetrate from deep positions was valuable. Not only did it allow Gerrard to get forward, but also Rooney’s impact in the final third grew. With Gerrard likely to secure a starting spot – due to captaincy– it leaves one spot available for Jack Wilshere or Carrick to solidify, whereas Lampard is surplus to requirement.
Hodgson is potentially moving away from the ‘golden generation’, look no further than their young attacking core built around Rooney and their back four. England no longer possesses the expectation to win – it’s at an all-time low – and based on team selection alone, Hodgson holds the responsibility of building for the long-term.
England’s national team still faces many deficiencies that disable them from being an elite side, but this may be the dawn of a new era if Hodgson continues to select the best players available.