Southgate must make timid Lions roar again
Three Lions are again struggling with the curse of the eternally frightened
Gareth Southgate wanted Power Rangers. He ended up with the powder-puff guys.
He asked for bravery. He got a band of brittle-boned plodders.
England's manager has two more games as caretaker at the house of hopeless.
If he's smart, he'll run for the hills and return to the sanctuary of the Under-21s.
England interim manager Gareth Southgate PHOTO: REUTERS
Southgate has an uphill task to prove that he is the man for the England job.
After a predictably dull and extremely lucky 0-0 draw in Slovenia yesterday morning (Singapore time), England's manager conceded that he had inherited "a mess".
No, Roy Hodgson inherited a mess.
Sam Allardyce took over a cracked bowl of stewed incompetence.
And Southgate was handed a basket case of indifference.
England were typically lethargic, unadventurous and overwhelmingly timid, it's just getting harder to care or identify any redeeming features.
Against Slovenia, Southgate was unable to fix the fear.
The English Premier League's brand names turned into cowardly Lions once more.
Like Allardyce, Hodgson and Fabio Capello before him, Southgate recognises England's weakness and appears equally unable to find a solution.
A strong, central midfield core was assembled in a bid to provide the steeliness, three essential building blocks towards a braver outlook.
Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli are redoubtable, commanding influences at their respective clubs, but the uniquely English paradox has afflicted them already.
England's Jordan Henderson. PHOTO: REUTERS
They are growing in stature in the EPL, but they shrank in an England jersey yesterday morning.
England's Dele Alli. PHOTO: AFP.
Dier and Henderson gifted the ball to their opponents more than once and almost caused England to lose their first qualifying fixture in seven years.
And Alli displayed the strength and stability of a plastic bag caught in a tornado and was ironically replaced by Wayne Rooney.
Dier and Henderson, in theory, should strengthen England's rear-guard and serve as a springboard for their creative colleagues.
Every international side need a Sergio Busquets, or a decent imitation at least.
England's problem is they don't have a Xavi Hernandez or an Andres Iniesta kind of guy blessed with the intelligence and confidence to retain possession long enough to do damage on the international stage.
The Three Lions, young and old, are again struggling with the curse of the eternally frightened.
Theo Walcott, a longstanding sufferer, endured one of those anonymous evenings that leave critics speaking of the untapped potential of a 27-year-old veteran.
And Jesse Lingard, a relative newcomer, suffered one of those erratic outings that leave Manchester United sceptics questioning his actual role at club level.
Collectively, the creative straitjackets remain firmly in place.
The attacking trio's inability to trust their inventiveness and gamble on their artistry, a risky philosophy that serves them well in EPL, was absent once again.
As a result, Daniel Sturridge rarely saw the ball and England managed just three shots on target - their lowest tally in a competitive fixture since the Costa Rica draw at the 2014 World Cup.
Having sat through that temporary reprieve for insomnia in Belo Horizonte, there was a sense that the Three Lions had clawed their way to rock bottom.
A 0-0 draw against defensive minnows from Central America was their nadir, surely. But Slovenia are ranked 67th in the world.
At left back, Bojan Jokic played with a broken toe and still demonstrated a bullishness that was beyond his opponents.
Slovenia should have won, perhaps even comfortably. Only the woodwork and Joe Hart's heroics denied the hosts a first win against England.
Whoever sits in the Three Lions' dugout no longer really matters as the EPL bubble continues to suffocate logic and stifle the growth of young talent.
When Lingard, Dier, Henderson and Alli perform for their clubs, they excel because they are surrounded with superior foreign footballers.
When they are surrounded with each other, their deficiencies are only magnified and their confidence crippled as a result.
England boasts the best league in the world, but a national side too timid to beat Slovenia. That's the unavoidable trade-off.
And Southgate is unlikely to change that.
What the experts say
FORMER ENGLAND DEFENDER MARTIN KEOWN ON THE DEFENCE
"John Stones played out of trouble very well although he is still looking for that balance in his play.
"At times, England looked panicky defensively - particularly Gary Cahill (above). At Chelsea, he is calm alongside John Terry but not so much with David Luiz. Stones is more similar to the latter and Cahill needs a calm presence with him.
"Joe Hart was so impressive on Tuesday night that at times I thought I was watching Gordon Banks!
"His world has been turned upside down in the last couple of months with his move to Italy, but this will have done wonders for his confidence."
FORMER ENGLAND MIDFIELDER JAMIE REDKNAPP ON THE MIDFIELD
"Eric Dier is not the player he was last season. There was almost a strut to him last year with Tottenham and England, but I feel Victor Wanyama has had an effect on him. There's that little competition for places and he is slightly lacking in confidence.
"Dele Alli is the one player who you think is going to make something happen. We're blessed to have this 20-year-old in the national team. Not even Steven Gerrard was displaying that kind of authority on the pitch at that age."
FORMER ENGLAND STRIKER CHRIS SUTTON ON THE ATTACK
"All the fuss about Theo Walcott (above) this season - I don't get it. People are saying he is a changed player. He is neither clever nor creative and he was completely ineffective once again for England.
"Why didn't (Gareth) Southgate bring Marcus Rashford or Jamie Vardy on at half-time? In my view, Rashford is far more effective playing off the left than the right. Rashford or Vardy - or both - would have given England what they were so badly lacking."
Scotland's Bannan optimistic
Barry Bannan insists Scotland's quest to reach the 2018 World Cup was not stopped in its tracks with the 3-0 defeat by Slovakia yesterday morning (Singapore time).
A Robert Mak double and a header from Adam Nemec left the Scots well beaten and, ahead of the England game on Nov 11, prospects of reaching their first major Finals since 1998 look in the balance.
However, the Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Bannan remains confident.
"It's not over, all the teams are closely matched in this group," Bannan told BBC Scotland. "England dropped points in Slovenia and we dropped points in Slovakia. It's our fault, because we're the ones who are out there losing games.
"Every game is going to be massive because the teams are so closely matched and it (England game) is a game we'll look forward to, it's the arch enemy."
- PA Sport.
By the numbers
England are unbeaten in their last 32 World Cup or Euro qualifying matches (won 24, drawn 8)
Slovenia have not beaten England in five meetings (drawn one, lost four).
This was England's first 0-0 draw since their clash with Ukraine in September 2013.