Desperate England can't even beat the Great British Bake Off
After an awful World Cup it's a dismal return to action for Roy Hodgson's men
England 1 Norway 0. Desperate. Not just the 40,181 attendance – the lowest for a Wembley international since 1998 – but the quality of the football on show. It almost made one pine for those heady June days when England ground out a goalless draw against Costa Rica in the World Cup. At least then the sun was shining.
In north-west London last night the atmosphere was gloomier than a Roy Hodgson press conference with the fans so subdued you could hear the players shouting instructions at each other. At one point it grew so quiet it was just about possible to hear some fans muttering: "I should have stayed at home and watched the Great British Bake Off on telly."
The goal that settled this enervating encounter was from the penalty spot, Wayne Rooney blasting the ball into the net for his 41st England goal. Only Jimmy Greaves, Gary Lineker and Bobby Charlton have scored more but none probably played in an England side so shorn of talent as this one.
Penalty apart, Rooney was virtually anonymous in his first outing as England captain since taking over from Steven Gerrard, and it was left to young Raheem Sterling to test the Norwegian defence with his pace. The Liverpool forward won his side the spot kick on 67 minutes, surging down the left flank of the penalty area only to be upended by a clumsy tackle from Omar Elabdellaoui.
It was a goal against the run of play, one of only two shots England had on target the whole evening. That stat is worth repeating – two shots on target the whole evening. So much for the "New Journey" that the Three Lions were apparently on, at least according to the front of the Wembley match-day programme.
But there was nothing new about this performance, the first since the Three Lions were dumped out of the World Cup without winning a game. Same old England, lacking in energy, imagination and enthusiasm.
As they bored 40,000 fans to sleep at Wembley, Germany and Argentina served up a six-goal cracker in Dusseldorf, the South Americans beating the World Champions 4-2 in a game in which new Manchester United Angel Di Maria showed how beautiful a game football can be.
Unfortunately for England fans Roy Hodgson is a manager who wants his side to win ugly and to hell with those who criticise his short-sighted game plan. "Two shots on target? Don't give me that one," he snarled when presented with the game's most damning stat. "What about all the ones they threw themselves in front of... don't hit me with statistics. When we had that much possession, and you talk about two shots on target?"
He rather damned himself with that outburst. England did dominate possession – 63 per cent – yet just two shots on target.
It doesn't bode well for Monday night when they travel to Switzerland for their opening qualifying game of the 2016 European Championships. Someone asked Hodgson if he would be changing his system for that clash; his reply should depress anyone who cares about the England football team. "Switzerland will need to beat us, if anything, we might be Norway on Monday," he replied. "We might be pushed back and can't attack and dominate for long periods, as we did today. I don't know."
Not the words of a man looking to seize the initiative against the Swiss. If it's entertainment you're after, it might be advisable in future to stick to the Great British Bake Off. Apparently one of the contestants on last night's show rustled up a delicious "Tropical Manchester Tart". Don't tell Rooney.