Gerrard saves England’s blushes as a new era begins

England Steven Gerrard, Adam Johnson

Two goals for the Liverpool captain helps his side come from behind on a good night for Fabio Capello

BY Steve Hoare LAST UPDATED AT 08:21 ON Thu 12 Aug 2010

So it really was the beginning of a new era after all. The boos were muted, the captain Steven Gerrard played a blinder in his favourite position, Arsenal's Theo Walcott rediscovered his zest and Fabio Capello ushered David Beckham into international retirement.

Capello's Becks bombshell was the first surprise in a night packed full of them. Capello is England's oldest coach at 64 but he thanked the former captain for coming to South Africa before declaring him "probably a little bit old" in a pre-match interview with ITV.

The next surprise was the warm welcome of the crowd. The likes of Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and John Terry got some boos early on but the supporters respectfully greeted the players as they took the field and were generally excitable and appreciative.

Capello then pulled another rabbit out of the hat with an uncharacteristically imaginative team sheet. Walcott and Adam Johnson would play on the wings and Gerrard was tucked in behind Rooney.

 

It could have been the vogueish 4-2-3-1, 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 but whatever the detail of the formation, it was a break from 4-4-2 and it looked full of purpose and vigour. If Capello had chosen this team in South Africa nobody would have complained.

 

It showed that Capello could still pick a progressive team. The only conclusion was that he bottled it in South Africa. Trusted in his conservative instincts rather than trusting the players who had served him so well during qualification.

 

It was not a selection of youth for youth's sake but it was yet another admission that he had erred in the summer. And within two minutes it was paying dividends.

 

Rooney had the ball in the back of the net after Gerrard had put him through with a slide rule pass. The goal was disallowed but England had served warning that they had emerged from their summer slumber.

 

Walcott and Adam Johnson were showing early promise and combining well with Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole respectively.

 

Then after 13 minutes came a delightful move. Gerrard fed the ball to Glen Johnson who immediately passed to Walcott who skipped past two defenders before pulling the ball back to Adam Johnson, who skied it.

 

Walcott's confidence was clearly restored. A long ball on to his head was deftly nodded over the defender, a lovely idea that didn't quite come off when the Hungarian defender blocked his run. A minute later he beat two players and then stumbled against a third but won a corner.

 

England's passing was purposeful and accurate but for all their invention at half time the score was still goalless. The boos rang out clearly for the first time. A multitude of substitutes were expected – normally the signal for a disjointed second half.

 

Michael Dawson came on for Terry. Kieran Gibbs substituted Ashley Cole. Bobby Zamora replaced Frank Lampard and Ashley Young came on for Walcott, who had given Capello plenty of evidence that he remained the player who astonished us all in Zagreb. But no Jack Wilshere and England were back in the much-maligned 4-4-2 formation.

 

After an hour England were behind. Dawson boobed to let in Vladimir Koman but he rushed back and appeared to save the ball from crossing the line. Replays were less than clear but the goal was given and thoughts inevitably turned to Frank Lampard's misfortune in the World Cup against Germany.

 

Within minutes Gerrard collected the ball outside the Hungary box and let rip with an absolute blinder. You would never have known it was a friendly from his passionate celebration. He was probably relieved to be on the scoresheet given the boos that rang out when Wayne Rooney had been substituted seconds earlier.

The United striker once again reacted, as he had in South Africa, to the crowd this time by sarcastically waving to all four corners of the stadium as he trudged off to be replaced by James Milner. 

But better times were ahead for England, as two minutes after the equaliser Gerrard added a second. The first goal was typical Gerrard but the second was more like watching Leo Messi jinking around and finding room where there appears to be none. Gerrard's twinkle toes deceived two players in the box before his toe dinked it past the keeper and into the net.

 

And that was about it. Zamora had time for a trade mark spin and volley that was just tipped over the bar and a bullet header that was also saved.

 

After 82 minutes man of the match Gerrard made way for the man of the future in the shape of Arsenal starlet Jack Wilshere. Wilshere had little chance to impress but England did and his introduction was the topping on a surprisingly good night.

  · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.