The Three Lions beat Norway on Saturday night in their first warm-up friendly ahead of Euro 2012 but they will have to up the ante to make an impression in next month's tournamentCOMMENT
By Greg Stobart
The low expectation surrounding England this summer is no bad thing. On Saturday night, Roy Hodgson got his tenure underway with an uninspiring but effective win over Norway in Oslo.
It was not the swashbuckling performance of potential European champions, but it was an organised, efficient display to provide at least a little hope given the chaos of the last six months.
Norway were feeble opponents but this was their first home defeat in two years and they never looked like getting past an England defence that was typically Hodgson-esque in its structure.
On the back of only three training sessions, the players all seemed to know their jobs when the team did not have possession of the ball. The central defenders communicated well, Leighton Baines showed that he is an able deputy for Ashley Cole and Phil Jones demonstrated both his defensive strength and attacking ambition.
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GOAL!! A classy goal from England and the fourth in four consecutive England matches for Ashley Young. The winger picked the ball up 40 yards from goal, dribbled a bit at the depleted Norwegian defence before dummying on his right foot and spurring into the area. A quality finish to slot it to the left of the helpless Rune Almenning Jarstein and into the bottom corner.
Hodgson has a reputation of making the most out of an average group of players, and the ordinary nature of the starting line-up on Saturday suggested that he could be in his element.
Few England supporters would have been thrilled to see the likes of Stewart Downing in the team, but the Three Lions will be hard to beat in Ukraine and Poland this summer, a base on which the more attacking players might be able to make the difference and inspire narrow victories.
Against Norway, it was Ashley Young who made the difference by scoring the winner in the ninth minute. The Manchester United attacker - playing in the central role usually occupied by Wayne Rooney - dropped his shoulder with a burst of acceleration on the edge of the penalty area and finished in style with his left foot.
England controlled the game for much of the first half, with Andy Carroll operating as a nuisance as the targetman and combing well with Young, despite his lack of thrust in front of goal. The Liverpool man’s only real chance came early on when he headed just wide from Downing’s cross.
The main thing for Hodgson was to avoid disaster, to ensure that at least some of the negativity lifted. He has negotiated the first hurdle but will be well aware that he has plenty to work on.
The striking, age-old problem was the difficulty England had in retaining the ball. After showing patience in possession in the early stages, the passing crumbled after the break as they consistently gave the ball away. Gareth Barry, a half-time substitute, was the most notable culprit and a more capable opponent would have taken advantage.
Hodgson may reflect that a more emphatic victory might have brought with it unrealistic expectations. As it is, he can be satisfied with the performance and result, especially the way the players have understood the tactical work in training, but there remains much to work on.
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