05 Sep England expects
There’s nothing like a last minute winner to keep the critics at bay and Sam Allardyce’s winning start for England in Slovakia has afforded him that rare luxury.
As a neutral observing an England team that has to deal with expectation that far outstrips reality, this was painful viewing.
Big Sam has inherited the best that England has to offer and the majority of those players failed miserably in the Euros in France over the summer.
Slovakia are a resilient side and their 0-0 against England in the group stages in June suggested this was going to be another slog and so it proved.
Former Liverpool defender Martin Skirtel was hard in the tackle on a regular basis, so much so that, I thought he should have been sent off before Serbian referee Milorad Mazic eventually showed him the red for stamping on Harry Kane in the 57th minute.
England huffed and puffed against eleven men and continued to do so against ten in the second half.
Only Adam Lallana looked as if he had any real goal threat against the Slovaks and he hadn’t scored in 26 previous appearances wearing the three lions.
Big Sam has a thick skin and the new England boss will need it when everyone and their Granny offers him their opinion on team selection.
Wayne Rooney is a case in point. If England fail, it seems to be Rooney who has to bear the brunt of the criticism.
The mob, and I include some members of the English press, voice their displeasure at his inclusion and question his position on the pitch in many International matches.
The Manchester United player almost has to win a game single-handedly to get pass marks from fans and hacks alike.
He remains the only player capable of playing a pass that many cannot see and some could only dream of in an England shirt.
But, like many other no10’s before him, he will probably suffer death by a thousand cuts from ‘educated’ supporters who claim to know better.
In my view, take Rooney out of that side and England become less than mediocre.
England deserved their late winner from Lallana and the three points will be followed by a few more comfortable wins in a group they should easily win.
I’m almost certain big Sam will use every ounce of his management skills to try and convince individuals and the team that they are better than they really are.
It is the one quality the new manager will have to use more than any other in this campaign because the reality is that England will qualify from this group, but they will not win the world cup in 2018 because this batch of players is simply not good enough.