When England have to play these sort of games, they really are
on a hiding to nothing, and they can't win whatever they do.
If they win easily with a big score, then it
was all that was expected of them.
Anything less than a big win and they are
pilloried from all quarters!
Such was the situation when San Marino once
again visited Wembley.
The group minnows, and I do mean minnows, were
there for the taking, and all England had to do to win was to turn up
it would seem.
But that is not how it works and England
prepared in the same professional manner as though they were playing
The players had to do a job, and that is
exactly what happened.
Right from the kick-off possession was almost
continuously England's, and they began by playing from side to side,
trying to find gaps in what was a blanket defence from San Marino.
The first chance fell to Wayne Rooney and the skipper's shot
was saved by goalkeeper Aldo Simoncini.
Almost immediately Danny Welbeck saw a shot deflected wide and
even after just ten minutes it was easy to see the pattern of this
particular match. On 15
minutes it was Raheem Sterling who almost broke the deadlock, before
being flagged offside. The
minutes ticked by with England probing from side to side trying to
break through. When the
players turned inside, as they invariably did, they were crowded out
by the massed ranks of the San Marino eleven.
Rooney, lively throughout, forced another good
save from Simoncini and then the goalkeeper made a fine save, tipping
Sterling's effort around a post after the winger had latched on to a
long through ball. The 24th
minute corner that resulted from Sterling's shot finally brought
England the breakthrough they needed to settle the nerves.
James Milner's corner was met by Phil Jagielka, and his header
only had to be on target to score.
It was. The
goalkeeper had come out and tripped over the leg of Luca Tosi, who was
back trying to help his defence.
Simoncini was lying on the turf as Jagielka's header went in.
If there was any criticism of England during this
first half hour it was in the fact that the build-up was slow and
laborious, and that gave the visitors ample time to regroup in defence.
On 28 minutes though, a good move involving Kieron Gibbs,
Welbeck and Jordan Henderson ended with another shot desperately
Milner, playing a crucial role in the diamond
shape Roy Hodgson was using, was very careless with some of his
passing, as were some other England players.
It was all too easy for England and this led to some
lackadaisical play at times.
Even then though, the chances still came thick and fast.
Gary Cahill missed a header from Milner's free-kick, Jack
Wilshere and Welbeck both should have done better when Henderson sent
in a good cross and then both Sterling and Henderson had runs blocked.
Milner compounded his poor performance so far with a needless
booking on 36 minutes and then six minutes later Simoncini made a
superb save from Welbeck's header, somehow scooping the ball out for a
From the corner kick though, England were given a
chance to add to their one goal.
The ball bobbed about in the area and as Rooney went for a
header he almost had his head kicked off by the flying dangerous boot
of Andy Selva. The referee
quite rightly awarded a penalty kick.
Rooney lashed home his shot to take him to 42 goals, now within
two of Jimmy Greaves in the England goalscoring list.
So the half ended with England totally in
control, two goals up, but not entirely convincing and as the second
half started Hodgson replaced Henderson and Sterling with Adam Lallana
and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as he tried to seek something a little
different. To the
manager's credit his changes had an immediate effect.
The two players sent on showed a more positive approach and
both were soon involved in dangerous attacks.
San Marino went from being rather comfortable in defence to
being stretched and a little more ragged.
On 49 minutes Oxlade-Chamberlain won the ball on
the right-wing and strode to the bye-line.
He pulled the ball back and Welbeck was in like a shot to beat
the keeper to the ball and fire home number three.
England at this stage were rampant and Rooney had a header
saved, Welbeck won a corner and Oxlade-Chamberlain saw a fine shot go
just wide. Milner was
still giving the ball away far too easily but Wilshere was now finding
his passing range. On 58
minutes a fine pass by Rooney gave Oxlade-Chamberlain a headed chance,
which the keeper saved.
Three minutes later and Wilshere picked out Rooney with the pass of
the night, only for the skipper to under-hit his attempted lob.
Almost immediately England did find the net again as Oxlade-Chamberlain's
shot was deflected past Simoncini by Lallana.
The referee at first gave a goal but then disallowed it after
consulting a linesman. The
joy of scoring his first international goal was obvious on Lallana's
face, until the decision changed and the Liverpool player was left
though, that goal will eventually come.
As the game went into the final third it was all
one-way traffic. Andros
Townsend came on for Welbeck and he set up Wilshere for a header,
again saved by the overworked keeper.
Another fine pass by Wilshere sent Rooney through again, but
Simoncini saved again, and then, on 72 minutes, came the best goal of
the night. Townsend
received possession from Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right, cut inside,
and unleashed a fine left-foot shot that beat the keeper at his near
post. A minute later, to
ironic cheers, Joe Hart had to make his first save of the night, in
fact it was almost his only meaningful touch.
Lallana tried again to break his duck, but the
keeper saved and then a series of one-two's almost led to another
chance, alas it was scrambled clear.
The pressure was now relentless and with 13 minutes to go
Rooney tried to centre from the right only to see the ball glance off
Alessandro Delle Valle's chest and wide of his unfortunate keeper for
an own goal. Still the
chances came in waves and Rooney could have easily had five or six on
the night. A volley went
wide and another header was saved.
Then yet another header was saved, after Gibbs had a shot
blocked, and Rooney again shot wide before Townsend hit another
screamer that was cleared off the line by Christian Brolli.
And that was about it.
England had over 50 attempts at goal, with 34 on target.
On another it could have been a record score!
All credit to Hodgson and his players, the manager for his
substitutions and the players for doing exactly what they had to do.
Now it was on to Tallin and the next match against Estonia.