England are through, mediocre more than marvelous. Even by the Three Lions standard, the ice cold qualification secured last night had a biting wintery chill attached to it.
Not because getting to a major tournament is taken for granted. No danger of that thanks to Steve McClaren on that never to be forgotten Wembley night. Even a decade on, the scars of those there watching that shower in the rain still runs deep.
No, the lack of excitement stems from what’s ahead. It always does. However good the qualifying campaign may be the usual checklist can be found: The eventual underachievement, the draw with the group’s also-ran, the Premier League player scoring against us, the unnecessary red card or the missed penalty kick. Which boxed will be ticked in Russia.
Preventing the predictable is beyond us, we’re afraid. But here’ five things England must figure out or before getting on the plane.
From Russia, with glove.
Glenn Hoddle’s man of the match last night perhaps, but public confidence in Joe Hart has all-but evaporated. The reality is he could have given away a first half penalty with a referee more up with play and the admittedly excellent save he made late on would have been averted had his starting position been better. A decision needs to be made sooner rather than later.
Fathom the formation. Fast.
One thing we took from last night was final confirmation that Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier together does not work. Henderson can only pass sideways and back while Dier is better defensively so is excused for his limited range. We don’t need both unless closing out a game so it’s time to put a passer in there instead and see what happens.
Get up and Adam.
Conspicuous by his absence, Adam Lallana’s recent injury has ensured England have lost some sparkle. While Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain run, Lallana runs himself into the ground for the cause. England need him fit and firing, and must also get six months from Danny Rose, the Tottenham left back, with Ryan Bertrand at best an able back-up.
Repairing the fans’ disconnect
As the paper planes poured down on the pitch, the message crash-landed at the players’ feet. England fans, although watching their side go through with relative ease again, aren’t sold. “Are we going to become Spain in the next eight months?” manager Gareth Southgate pondered. “No we’re not.” True, but finding a way to play which creates an identity could help.
For club and for country
England’s biggest issue, without doubt. How does Southgate get the players that dazzle in the Premier League to perform to the same level while wearing the Three Lions? How can Kane, Kyle Walker and Dele Alli link up like they have done so well in Tottenham white? When will Sterling show his relentless Manchester City form for his country? A difficult puzzle to solve, but one that needs all the pieces put together.