Tuesday 12 October 2021 11:38 pm

England 1, Hungary 1: Southgate's attacking experiment backfires

England missed the chance to take a major step towards confirming their place at next year’s World Cup as a dogged Hungary held them to a draw at Wembley tonight.

John Stones dragged the hosts level after they had fallen behind to Roland Sallai’s penalty, given for Luke Shaw’s dangerously high boot, but Gareth Southgate’s team could not find a winning goal, despite an attack-minded line-up.

There were disappointing scenes in the away end, too, as some Hungary supporters fought with police early in the match.

England’s famous five snuffed out

Southgate threw caution to the wind with an XI featuring Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Mason Mount, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane but Hungary largely kept England at arm’s length.

Foden was unable to reprise the deep-lying playmaker role he performed so effectively against Andorra on Saturday as he and Mount found space quickly snuffed out in midfield.

Sterling, stationed largely on his less favoured right wing to accommodate Grealish in his best position, threatened only sporadically and failed to convert England’s best chance when Kane sent him through with just goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi to beat.

Kane, meanwhile, looked as leaden-footed as in those early Euro 2020 games and was only mildly more effective when dropping off to tee up team-mates.

Southgate joked this week that he “commits a crime” with every selection, in that someone is always unhappy.

Whether Hungary were the right opponents to experiment on with all-out attack is open to debate but with little more than a year to go until Qatar 2022 he has only limited opportunities to do so and cannot, therefore, be blamed for testing it out.

If it did any good, it may be that it shows Southgate’s critics there is a little more to international management than simply throwing your best players onto the field.

Grealish rises to challenge

One player in Southgate’s famous five did rise to the challenge, however, and that was Grealish.

Starting on the left of a front three, he was at his most effective when roaming infield, taking players on and looking for one-twos. 

When England found themselves behind 24 minutes in, Grealish more than anyone carried the fight to Hungary and won the free-kick from which Stones equalised.

The £100m man produced moments of magic, sitting down one Hungary defender in the penalty area and, on another occasion, collecting a booming crossfield pass and beating his marker with one half-volleyed first touch.

If the weekend win illuminated what Foden can offer then this was Grealish’s showcase, and England faded once he was withdrawn on 62 minutes.

Improved Hungary display tainted by fans again

England rolled them over 4-0 in Budapest two months ago but Hungary were far better organised and more resilient here. 

Sadly, their team’s performance was tainted by the behaviour of some of their fans, who clashed with stewards and police inside the first five minutes of the game.

Police later said that the trouble began when a Hungary fan was arrested for a racially aggravated public order offence towards a steward.

Hungary have had their fans banned from home games this year for instances of racism, including towards England players in September.

At Wembley last night, one banner fashioned in black and white appeared to call for players to stop taking the knee in solidarity at racial and social injustice.