Andorra v England - the minimum
"Nothing concerns me outside what is written, what people say, it matters inside and there is a great determination now to prove a lot of people wrong. And gentlemen, if you want to write whatever you want to write, you can write it because that's all I'm going to say. Thank you."
- England coach Steve McClaren, post-match press conference
"The fans had their opinions during the game which isn't nice for the players to hear. They are entitled to their opinion but for the players' and England's sake it is best kept until after the game. The booing or the McClaren chants are not helping the players."
- England captain John Terry
It was clear from the first half of this game that the england players were feeling the heat from the pressure emitting from the fans, much less the media. They could not relax, therefore could not focus and found it hard to break down so many men behind the ball. Testament to that is the amount of possession and attacks Andorra had in that half. OK, it was to be expected from a national side 163rd in the FIFA World Rankings, 157 places below England. Yet our application as a result of the amount of possession we had was poor. A number of passes were not accurate enough, not enough power behind the pass, in other places too much and the ball would go off for an Andorran kick or throw. Steven Gerrard was centre but was found at times to be lacking in quality and now and then I was surprised to see him far back than usual, given that he has his central role in the absence of Frank Lampard. It was becoming that the Chelsea central an would be beckoned to on account of the first half, particularly where the ball would be delivered in, either in the air or along the ground, and Andorra had little trouble defending them.
From the outset Wayne Rooney was clearly targeted for a wind-up mission by centre-backs Oscar Sonejee and Antoni Lima, as Sonejee kept whispering to him and Lima ran upto Rooney to complain. Thing is Rooney was taking the bait bit by bit and he again hardly featured in the match. The referee wasn't shocking but some incidents went unpunished. Micah Richards was met with a clear high (or thigh) challenge that had nothing whatsoever to do with the ball. Owen Hargeaves went to challenge for a high ball and was clearly seen by Andorra skipper Jordi Ruiz and was clearly met with an intentional elbow, how he got away with it I could not understand. A number of challenges were conducted with intentional malice that england seemed more inclined to respond to them than the need for goals. At half time the cameras around the ground ensured on capturing the reaction of the England fans, where their displeasure, disgust and annoyance was on display for Steve McClaren and all to see.
Now, whatever was said in the England dressing room at half time, England began as a changed unit. There was now a hint of some urgency in their play and the likes of Gerrard, Aaron Lennon, Hargreaves and Stewart Downing began an attacking midfield job we expected from them. The fluidity in their movements was faster and they showed that they wanted to not approach the Andorran guard, that they wanted to damn well breach it. And it was about time. The only thing that marred the effort was Rooney. The nearest linesman flagged the referee over to report Rooney and Sonejee for petulance and that was what it was, silliness that they both should have been warned about for a final time. Yet with many referees there seems to be an onus on less discretion and more rigid no-nonsense officiation, so both were booked, meaning Rooney will miss the Estonia game under suspension.
Micah Richards was hurt in the first half and I had suspected from the Israel game, and from Stuart Pearce's words, that he was not 100% fit to play, and as the Man City defender layed on the pit, McClaren took the opportunity to change both he and Rooney for Kieron Dyer and Jermaine Defoe respectively. I called for these two during the Israel game and their appearance brought more movement to our game. Now the defence had no one to wind up but instead more more to keep tabs on due to pace, which opened the Andorran defence. Lennon moved down the right and crossed, Ashley Cole nooded it down, Terry hooked the ball to Gerrard to hit a half volley. Goal. As Gerrard and the others celebrated, I wouldn't have. Having delivered groceries later than expected, the customer wouldn't be too happy. It is now about delivering on time in future. So one goal is nothing to celebrate, there should be more.
Then Gerrard picked up the ball and knocked it to Downing, one-two, the same with Defoe, one-two, two little touches and Gerrard was in the box, simply place the ball and score. And he did. That was the Liverpool Gerrard. Then we had more awful conduct from the Andorrans again, Hargeaves tackled Ruiz and nudged him with his palm on the back, which sent the captain into a rolling spin worthy of the Highland Games. Hargreaves was booked, TV replays showed the wrong man was cautioned. Further, Cole came in with a high (thigh) challenge and in retribution he was immediately and maliciously kicked by Genis Garcia. Cole shoved Garcia who then fell and rolled with hands to his face, it was embarassing viewing. The Andorrans are part-time players but most of them must be bit-part actors. They appeared content to disrupt England rather than compete, and I believe that was the game plan all along.
Cole was rightly booked, so too was Garcia, but if Cole was booked for the challenge, what about the challenge in the beginning on Richards?? The game continued from then with Andorra enjoying one or two counter-attacks but nothing more. I felt it called for David Nugent to come on. Previously I would have had Richards off for Dyer for the second half, 3-1-3-3 to leave Dyer and Rooney to pull the defence open. But with 10mins approaching, it felt right for Nugent to come on for Andy Johnson, who had tried well as he did on Saturday. With that, Gerrard was seen free in midfield, he was passed, he then sent a through ball to Defoe, who was onside as the appeals went up, and his shot squirmed under the keeper with Nugent racing in to poke the ball as it reached the white line. Was it Nugent's or Defoe's goal? I say Defoe's, it was already going in but that matters little.
For the record, as desperate as it may have been, I do not condone Gerrard's dive and hope the Andorran keeper's reaction deters him from doing it again.
Now, Steve McClaren. While I still opinionate that it is too early to dismiss him but the man needs to get on the touchline and scream those lungs out. The fans want to see blood, guts and passion. We dont want to lose but if we had to, it would be after we have bursted every vein, vessel and vest. Chants of 'you're not fit to wear the shirt' emanated at half time means such qualities were not evident in the first 45mins. England could have drawn 0-0 but with more of a display as was produced in the second half, you could possibly then say there was at least some passion in their play. For McClaren to say the above shows the pressure is getting to him, and he shouldn't have shown it. No, it is not nice and is unsavoury to recieve such criticism and reaction but it is inevitable if you do not play as well as expected, particularly when you are in need of nothing less than a win.