2012 qualification now just a point away but little cause for enthusiasm from a lukewarm performance
ENGLAND vs WALES
MANAGER Fabio Capello admitted England got lucky after an Ashley Young goal salvaged a first home win for more than a year – and took them to the brink of qualifying for Euro 2012 – from a distinctly lacklustre performance.
In what is likely to be the Italian’s last competitive match at Wembley, he reverted to a more conservative selection, with three central midfielders, than that which swept Bulgaria aside on Friday.
But he blamed the inhibiting factor of a home crowd for a display that scarcely merited three points – and would have gleaned just one, had Wales substitute Robert Earnshaw not missed an open goal in the closing stages.
“Yes, we were lucky,” said Capello. “Here, we lose the confidence. Some players usually can dribble and go straight at the goal. I always want three players in front of goal for crosses but there was only ever one.
“We didn’t play well in the first 20 minutes and in the last 15 minutes we suffered a lot. We didn’t play good passes and never pressed the ball. When we play at Wembley, we want to play with more courage and more pressure on the opponent. When we played the qualification for the World Cup, we never had problems at home. Today, the other team played without pressure for the result. You can do things with a free mind.”
England now need just a point from their final Group G fixture, away to Montenegro next month, to ensure their place at next summer’s finals in Poland and Ukraine, but will not be feared on this showing.
Capello made two changes from the team that swaggered past Bulgaria 3-0 on Friday, with James Milner replacing injury doubt Theo Walcott and Frank Lampard preferred to Scott Parker, one booking away from a ban.
But with a slightly altered shape, Milner playing deeper than Young had in Sofia, they looked a pale shadow, rarely outfoxing an eager Wales team also buoyed by a weekend win.
A John Terry header and Stewart Downing’s miscued scissor kick were the only times England threatened to rouse another impressive Wembley crowd in the first half-hour.
But out of nowhere Downing produced a moment of class, feigning to cut in from the right but instead darting to the bye-line and pulling back for Young to convert smartly first time at the near post.
It looked set to herald a more incisive display, but straight after the break they were subdued and complacent again. Lampard blazed a tricky 18-yard effort over but Wales looked increasingly dangerous and Capello’s men ever more anxious.
Earnshaw had by far the best chance of the game, an empty net from Darcy Blake’s ball across the six-yard box, but somehow contrived to shin it over.
KEY MOMENTS | THREE LIONS FLOUNDER AGAINST WALES
35 mins: The Wembley boo boys were no doubt clearing their throats as half-time approached and with their side failing to justify their hugely flattering Fifa world ranking. But the players were spared a grilling, by the fans at least, thanks to Ashley Young’s neat near post finish after his former Villa team-mate Stewart Downing showed his right foot isn’t just for standing on. The now Liverpool winger escaped the attentions of Joe Ledley with a clever shimmy and centred for the unmarked Young, who steered his shot inside the near posts and under the body of the sprawling Wayne Hennessey.
73 mins: Theo Walcott, John Terry and Fabio Capello all launched vehement defences of Frank Lampard this week, but nothing in his performance last night suggested his role in Poland and Ukraine next summer will extend to much beyond a couple of cameo appearances from the bench. He skied his only chance of note just past the hour mark, looked slow and cumbersome in comparison to his Welsh opponent Aaron Ramsey and was taken off with 17 minutes remaining.
77 mins: He’d only been on the field for nine minutes but that’s just about the only excuse that can be offered in defence of Robert Earnshaw, whose miss from six-yards is likely to haunt the Wales striker for years to come. Aaron Ramsey’s free-kick was touched across goal by Darcy Blake and looked to have presented the seasoned poacher with an unmissable opportunity. With the goal at his mercy Earnshaw opted for power rather than placement and succeeded only in locating the top tier of the stand behind Joe Hart’s goal.