Iain Macintosh: Hodgson must stick with pace and youth
(Danny Welbeck 58, 90+4)
Boy, did Roy Hodgson need that.
England's 2-0 victory in Switzerland in their opening Group E qualifier yesterday morning (Singapore time) was a massive boost to their hopes of securing qualification for Euro 2016 but, more than that, it secured his position after the most difficult week of his stewardship.
Under fire from all angles, he sent out an exciting young team and was rewarded with a performance that offered real promise.
Now it's time to build. This is not an opportunity that can be ignored.
England will not mess up qualification now.
Switzerland are the only serious rivals in an astonishingly easy group. San Marino, Lithuania and Estonia are all very weak, only Slovenia will offer anything approaching a challenge.
No England manager has ever had a more straightforward path to a tournament. The time for caution is over.
Hodgson has been accused in the past over being too defensive. He has a chance now to prove his critics wrong.
These young players should be given the opportunity to play together over an extended period, growing comfortable with each other, learning each other's styles and foibles.
There is no "golden generation" to slow them down now. This could be a team built on pace and adventure.
Danny Welbeck was indicative of this new hope. Given a chance to play as a centre forward, he ran himself into the ground for the cause, scoring twice and leading from the front.
Arsenal's supporters would have been delighted to see this version of Welbeck.
They knew that he was quick, they knew that he was strong and, if they watched him closely enough, they'd know that he was smart too.
But finishing has never been his strong point. But, when young players are trusted and given a run in the team, this is what they can do.
You only had to watch the way he took the second goal at the end of the game.
He had the pace to latch onto the ball, the strength to hold off the defenders and, finally, the composure to wait for his moment and then slot the ball home.
There had been more than enough clues for Hodgson as to where the future lay, finally he was able to see them.
Raheem Sterling's return to the point of the diamond had re-energised England against Norway and it did the same here.
While the youngster was a little careless in possession and slightly out of synchronisation with his teammates, the invention and effort were there in abundance. He should never have been moved out of that role.
Wayne Rooney still struggled to offer up his best football, but at least there was willing here before his legs went towards the end.
He is worryingly sluggish these days, but his experience was evident in the build-up to England's first goal.
While he could have been forgiven for going for goal, he took the time to pick out Sterling on the flank and the Liverpool man fired in a low cross for Welbeck to convert.
It was, by no means, a perfect display.
Switzerland repeatedly opened up their guests and England had Joe Hart and Gary Cahill to thank for two match-winning moments.
The drawback to a diamond formation is that it can leave the fullbacks exposed and it could not be said that England were particularly comfortable at any point in the game.
But, given the hapless nature of their performances in the last year, those concerns can wait for another time.
It was enough for the long-suffering England supporters to see some pace in the team, some endeavour, some ambition.
They are far from the finished article, but this was a huge step in the right direction.
Hodgson will be a relieved man today. He will know full well that this could have been the end for him as England manager.
Now it's time to take advantage.
England are at their best when they are at their boldest. Pace and youth are the way forward.
'PLAYERS DO CARE ABOUT ENGLAND'
Roy Hodgson thinks the pressure on his shoulders will not ease despite England's encouraging 2-0 victory over Switzerland.
England's dismal World Cup campaign, and the uninspiring win over Norway last week, led some to question whether Hodgson was the right man to lead England forward.
Those critics were silenced yesterday morning (Singapore time) though, as England emerged victorious from what was billed as their toughest Euro 2016 qualifier.
Yet, Hodgson knows his team must continue to impress over the next two years to prove the England manager's optimism is not just hot air.
"You're always under pressure," Hodgson (below) said. "The day when an England manager is not under pressure, we're not asking enough of him and his team, so that's never bothered me."
Hodgson has always maintained England's early World Cup exit was down to "fine margins" rather than any dramatic collapse.
The England manager resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes in the wake of the disappointing campaign in Brazil.
He rejected the opportunity to turn to some more experienced heads and instead he has maintained his trust in the youngsters he introduced towards the end of the last qualifying campaign.
"On Monday, the players proved what I have been trying to say all along," Hodgson said.
"They proved that - yes the World Cup didn't go our way, and we were very disappointed, but we have been building, we have been changing players, introducing new ones, so it wasn't a question of us suddenly hitting a brick wall (in Brazil).
"It wasn't a case of - all of a sudden this is all wrong, we have to do something different.
"It was a question of maintaining faith that we're on the right track, that we were getting the right players in the team.
"These young players will be good players, so it was important to get off to a good start against the team in the group which people will be thinking are our biggest rivals."
Hodgson was also happy that his players maintained their desire to play for England despite the winless campaign in Brazil.
"The one thing about these players... is that they all have a burning desire to play for England," the 67-year-old added. "Jack Wilshere would play left back if I asked him to. That theory that players care more about their club sides is nonsense.
"They care about both."
- PA Sport.