By Sonny Turner
Repost from 12/10/21
England were restricted to gaining a single point on their way to World Cup qualification at Wembley by a disciplined Hungary side, whose deplorable fans didn’t match their team’s commendable performance. Still top of the group, however, and with only Albania and San Marino left to play, it looks inconceivable that England should fail to qualify for the World Cup next year.
Despite the poor, laboured, performance by the Three Lions on the pitch, it being the first time since 2012 they’ve failed to win a home qualifier, it was the behaviour of the visiting fans which will dominate conversation once again, managing just the minute silence in memory of the late greats Jimmy Greaves and Roger Hunt, before spouting their objections at the England players taking the knee. The Hungarian players chose to stand and point to the respect badges on their sleeves. Their fans should have paid attention. Instead they chose to unveil a banner depicting a figure taking the knee with a cross through it. This was before they began to attack police.
Just three minutes into the game police were forced to use their batons in a futile attempt to beat back the Hungarian support, who had clambered higher up into the stand than they were permitted, as the attackers threw punches and kicked at them, forcing them to retreat down the steps to the concourse, and away from the makeshift battleground. One arrest was made, a fan whose offence the Metropolitan Police stated was “a racially aggravated public order offence following comments made towards a steward.”
On the pitch, Southgate was also having problems. Having opted for a more attacking approach, starting Mason Mount, Phil Foden, and Jack Grealish, ahead of just a single holding midfielder in the form of Declan Rice, rather than his usual choice of two holding midfielders, mixed results ensued.
There were occasions throughout the game where Rice was left on his own and outnumbered in England’s midfield, unable to pick up two players, one was inevitably left free, with Rice then continually berating his team-mates for not helping him out. The game also became increasingly more open in the second half without the now seemingly ever-present Kalvin Philips in midfield, providing cover for Rice when the West Ham midfielder drove forwards, leaving an empty space behind him for Hungary to exploit.
The obvious attacking benefits of Southgate’s formation change, however, were also evident, largely manifesting themselves through Grealish, who was excellent all evening, being unfairly hooked for Bukayo Saka around the hour mark; Grealish was England’s best player despite only playing two-thirds of the game.
His usual tricky and confident self, the Manchester City forward was constantly willing to receive the ball, adding a touch of flair to an England side who looked blunt at times, effortlessly gliding past the Hungarian defenders, who had a hard nights work trying to stop him, eventually opting to go with the general consensus when defending against the 26-year-old, and bring him down at every opportunity. This was how England’s equaliser started.
Grealish, surrounded by three defenders, cleverly drew a foul on the right-hand side of the pitch. Foden delivered the perfect ball in, which carried through to John Stones at the back post, who tapped in from close range to put England back level. The Manchester City defender also came close to a second when he headed agonisingly wide from a corner in the second half.
Stones’ rescue of a point for England was delivered just 13 minutes after the hosts had conceded, and was the culmination of a good response having gone behind. One of the few positives Southgate can take from the game.
Following a warning shot from Roland Sallai, drifting into the box but firing over the bar, the Hungarian striker was the man who had put England behind, when he sent the ball into the bottom left corner of the net from the penalty spot. A penalty which England felt aggrieved about, Luke Shaw, the culprit, having made slight contact with the head of Hungary’s Loic Nego when clearing the ball. However slight the contact it was an obvious foul. “The way he went over I thought he had died,” came the response post-match from the stony-faced England full back, almost hiding his hyperbole.
England’s second half attempts to win the game proved fruitless, a combination of a lack of creativity and the out of form England captain Harry Kane having another quiet night. A cross which he nearly tapped in but was ultimately cleared early in the game, and a poor shot straight at the goalkeeper from outside the area were the sum of his chances.
Kane’s night was summed up moments before being replaced by Tammy Abraham, a chance inside the penalty area which he snatched at, slicing high and wide, a demonstration of frustration from the England forward. While club form has suffered a significant drop this season, Kane had scored in 15 consecutive qualifiers for his country before the game, and so it was an uncharacteristically poor performance in a national jersey, his great goalscoring run limping to a close.
With the formation experiment not going to plan, Southgate implemented a 3-4-3 in a futile attempt to win the game. Saka was put on as a right wing-back and Jordan Henderson entered the pitch to partner Rice in midfield. A midfield stabilisation took place as a result, but it did not help England to conjure a winning goal.
Further substitutions were made. Tammy Abraham, who scored for England at the weekend, was one, and had little to work with after coming on, a glancing header which went comfortably wide the best of his opportunities, before having to come off injured after just 15 minutes for Ollie Watkins. The Aston Villa striker had one opportunity in the two minutes he was on, but slipped as he hit the ball, the result a very comfortable save for Peter Gulacsi.
A draw was all that was deserved from England’s mediocre display, and confirmation to Southgate perhaps to stick with two holding midfielders in the future.