Roy Hodgson relief as England reach verge

Roy Hodgson: Relief. Picture: Getty
Roy Hodgson: Relief. Picture: Getty
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Roy Hodgson is relieved to have escaped the dagger being plunged into his World Cup dream and is now aiming to leap straight to Brazil without the need of a safety net.

When England emerged for the second-half of their Wembley encounter with Montenegro on Friday night they were in a spot of bother.

Being held goalless by some stubborn defence, Hodgson by that stage knew Ukraine had beaten Poland.

Had his team failed to respond, the 66-year-old could have kissed goodbye to automatic qualification and gone into Tuesday’s final qualifier with Poland knowing victory was required just to reach the play-offs.

A win is still preferable but only because it would avoid 
having to take the hazardous play-off path to South America next summer.

After debutant Andros Townsend starred in what turned out to be an excellent 4-1 win, that is the very worst-case scenario for England now.

“At least the knife is removed from our throat,” said Hodgson.

“Had we drawn or lost, with Ukraine winning, it would have been a major problem.

“If the very worst happens now and we, for some reason, can’t reproduce this performance or do badly, we still have a chance of getting to the World Cup.

“That was important for us.”

Not that Hodgson is intending to take advantage of the extra life.

“We don’t count on using that vehicle,” he said.

“We have given ourselves a slight margin for error but we count on beating Poland and getting there under our own steam as top of the group.”

Universally acknowledged as a decent man beyond his abilities as a football coach, it would take a hard heart indeed not to feel a sense of goodwill towards Hodgson as he stands on the brink of becoming only the sixth Englishman, after Walter Winterbottom, Sir Alf Ramsey, Ron Greenwood, Bobby Robson and Glenn Hoddle, to guide his country to a World Cup.

Harry Redknapp may disagree but Hodgson is having to cajole performances out of a squad badly lacking in depth, certainly compared with the one Sven-Goran Eriksson took to two quarter-finals in 2002 and 2006. But, rather than the conservative coach he is so often portrayed as, Hodgson has shown a willingness to look beyond the tried and tested and place his faith in youth. Another sign came in the call-up of 18-year-old Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling following the withdrawal on Friday of Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley with a calf injury that is set to keep him on the sidelines for up to three weeks, plus the subsequent suspension for Tuesday’s game of full-back Kyle Walker.

Hodgson made 18-year-old Sterling the fifth youngest player in England history when he picked him for the friendly defeat to Sweden in November last year.

Sterling is just one of the youngsters Hodgson has continued to track during his 17 months in charge.

Townsend is the latest to roll off the production line.

The Tottenham wide-man deservedly earned man-of-the-match honours against Montenegro, both for the dynamism of his performance, which unsettled a defence that was otherwise coping reasonably well, and then the brilliant goal that settled the contest.

But, as Hodgson pointed out, there are many more which is why he is nowhere near as depressed about the future of English football than many others.

“Suddenly we’re getting in a situation where these younger players that we’ve always fancied strongly are starting to come through,” said Hodgson.

“We’ve always known they were there. We’ve just been unlucky.

“Jack Wilshere has missed many games through injury, as has Daniel Sturridge. Danny Welbeck hasn’t always played for Manchester United.

“Now things are coming together for us and they are getting their matches. Long may that continue.

“I don’t share the gloom. The future for English football is very bright.

“We have a nice balance. What we need to do is win on Tuesday night and get ourselves to Brazil.

“Then you’ll see an England team that will grow in strength, just like we’ve seen the German team do.”