Anything but victory will bring a shuddering halt to Hodgson's honeymoon period

The 65-year-old's first months in the job have been testing without really putting on the pressure but Tuesday's tough trip to Warsaw could define his England future
By James McManus

Most reasonable observers would agree that he has so far met fair expectations of what England can and should do but Tuesday's trip to Poland still represents a potentially era-defining fixture for Roy Hodgson.

So far during his short tenure, the 65-year-old former Liverpool, West Brom and Fulham boss has had to negotiate scandal after drama after mishap, whether it be taking over the national team just a month before Euro 2012, handling the whole John Terry situation or the subsequent fallout which has since involved both Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole.

Nevertheless, there is a feeling that, despite all of this, Hodgson has been given something of a free ride up until now when it comes to criticism simply due to his whirlwind appointment and the majority of issues affecting the side being pre-existing and unavoidable.

PREVIEW: Team news, facts and the players to watch as Poland take on England
Now is the time for the 65-year-old to stamp his own authority on the side and he faces a few selection headaches ahead of the Poland clash, with Leighton Baines' form at left-back and Phil Jagielka's displays at centre-back providing food for thought, particularly in the wake of Terry's international retirement.

His handling of the hastily deleted tweet highlighting Cole's disregard for the suits at England headquarters was exceptional and he defused the situation even further by giving the nod to the in-form Everton defender for the game against San Marino instead. It was an excellent piece of man-management from a coach so often accused of lacking even a modicum of media savvy, cruelly exposed by a slip of the tongue on a tube journey two weeks previously.

While the win over the San Marino hardly set pulses racing and was met with almost inevitable widespread indifference, in terms of not only the performance but due to the training-ground aesthetics involved, it was actually the day's other game over in Chisinau which could have the most effect on England's fortunes in the remainder of their qualifying campaign.

15/2 England are 15/2 with Bet365 to beat Poland 2-1 in Warsaw
Ukraine somehow managed to drop two points away at Moldova, with a combination of scarcely believable misfortune and profligate finishing costing Oleg Blokhin's side in a 0-0 stalemate. It resulted in England opening up a psychologically boosting five-point lead in the table.

The Three Lions' 1-1 draw at Wembley against Ukraine was by and large glossed over once again due to incidents off the pitch dominating the headlines but now is the time during which Hodgson will truly be judged and it is games like the one against Poland which will make all the difference.

The suspicion that Hodgson still has a penchant for defensive football means that he will need to add a measure of style to the substance in due course to prove his doubters wrong. In addition, with the knives sure to be sharpened unless victory is secured on their travels given that media darling Harry Redknapp is still without a club, a positive performance is the order of the hour too.

The England boss has not been averse to making tough decisions so far, though, and, in handing Wayne Rooney the captaincy, publicly backing Cole and all but ending Ferdinand's international career, this is increasingly starting to become his team, moulded in his image.

Considering all that with which he has had to contend so far during his tumultuous reign, Hodgson has negotiated the numerous bumps in the road well. Results are the most important and quantifiable way to judge a manager, however, and, against respectable and historically difficult opponents such as Poland, now is the time for him to make his mark.

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