After a stunning second half performance in the Euro 2016 Group B game against Wales saw England triumph 2-1, manager Roy Hodgson was praised for his ruthless half-time changes which altered the course of the game in his sides favour. However, with many calling for these changes to be made prior to the game, I ask whether Hodgson was proactive or reactive.
Let’s go back to the beginning, the 1-1 draw in the opening group game against Russia. England played well and, despite Russia’s late equaliser, thoroughly deserved to win the game. There was, however, some question marks over the team selection in the aftermath of the game. Why was Harry Kane on corners? Why did Raheem Sterling start after such a disappointing campaign for Manchester City? Why was Jamie Vardy, with 24 league goals and a Premier League winners medal to his name, on the substitutes bench? These were questions that were asked among many fans and media outlets in the build up to the Wales game this past Thursday.
When an unchanged starting eleven was announced for the crunch game against their fellow Brits, few were surprised, if a little concerned. Kane, who was poor against Russia, kept his place at the spearhead of a front three which included Sterling, who was terrible in the opening fixture.
England dominated the first half, albeit without looking threatening, and their frailties were exposed in the latter stages of the half when Gareth Bale put Wales in front with a 35-yard free kick. Yes, much has been of Joe Hart’s poor goalkeeping, and letting what looked to be a fairly routine save creep into the back of the goal, but it was a goal that might just save England’s tournament.
Half time came, and Hodgson reacted. He pulled off Kane and Sterling, both who were exceptionally poor, and put on Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge. The change in England’s system worked instantly and Wales looked shell shocked. Ten minutes after half time England were level after Vardy thumped in a loose ball from inside the sx yard box in what is likely to be one of the best pieces of officiating you are likely to see at the tournament (Vardy was offside although the linesman spotted the ball came off Wales’ Ashley Williams rather than an England player).
England continued to impress as the second half wore on when Hodgson threw his last roll of the dice. With many an England fan calling for the manager to bring on a creative player such as Jack Wilshere, Hodgson brought on 18-year-old Marcus Rashford, who became England’s youngest ever player in a European Championship. Hodgson was definitely going for broke.
Finally, in the 92nd minute, England got the goal they deserved when Daniel Sturridge fired a low shot past Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey. Hodgson had masterminded a comeback, the first time that England had come from a goal behind to win in a European Championship.
Which brings us to the title question. Was this all part of a Hodgson plan, or did he simply cave and react to what was unfolding before him?
The case is easier to make for the reaction. 1-0 down at half time and constant public pressure for Vardy to be in the side. Hodgson was acutely aware of the attention Vardy’s exclusion, and indeed Sterling’s admission, in the side was getting in the media. He chose to ignore it and keep the faith with the side which started against Russia. Having seen that Sterling, and Kane, were again out-of-sorts, he chose to haul them off at half time and bring in the two players that had the potential to change the game, which, of course, they did.
However, to Hodgson’s credit, he did take Harry Kane off corner duties and hand them to the increasingly impressive Wayne Rooney. And herein lies the argument for proactive. We will never know, of course, but it is perfectly feasible that Hodgson had stated to Kane and Sterling that he was to give them one more chance to earn their stripes in the England team and, if they failed to repay his faith, they would be brought off. Perfectly aware that Vardy, Sturridge and, latterly, Rashford were waiting in the wings, this was Hodgson’s way of showing his hand.
Indeed, whichever way Hodgson dealt with the situation he should be commended. He was ruthless in hauling both players off at half time, something he has never done in a competitive fixture for England, and he reaped the rewards. What will be interesting to see is how he finishes the job in the final Group B game against Slovakia on Monday night.