Roy Hodgson admitted it had been some time since he and his coaching staff had “showed such joy at a goal” after Daniel Sturridge’s stoppage-time winner enabled England to seize the initiative in Group B with a dramatic success against Wales.
The first-team coach Gary Neville tore down the touchline to join in the celebrations with the players after Sturridge poked a shot inside Wayne Hennessey’s near post to break Welsh resistance in Lens. Hodgson, his side trailing to Gareth Bale’s long-range, first-half free-kick, had boldly flung on Sturridge and Jamie Vardy at the interval with both strikers scoring as his side kickstarted their campaign by vaulting to the top of the group.
“I’d have been a lot less ecstatic if we’d not conceded that late one against Russia at the weekend which robbed us of a deserved victory,” said Hodgson, whose reaction had been joyful in the dugout.
“It’s certainly been two different ends to the spectrum. It’s a long time since myself and the coaching staff have showed such joy at a goal, and that’s because that equalising goal the other night had put us under a bit of pressure.
“When the chances don’t go in, and you compound your task by conceding that Bale goal it really is a happy moment when both the substitutes score. But I thought it was on the cards through the second half.
“I have great empathy with Chris Coleman and the Welsh team because he must have been looking at a good draw. He will be feeling tonight as I was on Saturday night. If I had been watching from afar and not been with England, I would have felt very sorry for Wales.
“But they will have to excuse me not feeling sorry for them because I want to be pleased with ourselves. It took a lot of probing and effort, but I was so pleased to see both the goals go in. Four points from two matches is the minimum we deserve for the two performances.”
Hodgson had acted ruthlessly at half-time, withdrawing an out-of-form Raheem Sterling and a weary Harry Kane from the fray, with Vardy equalising from close range upon the restart. “Watching France play Albania last night, it was a similar situation when Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann came on, which helped France get the victory they deserved,” the England manager said.
“We’d thought a lot about what the starting 11 should be, but I didn’t want to start breaking eggs with a big stick. I thought I would keep one or two up my sleeve. Their goal meant it was pushed on to me a bit, but it was always in our thoughts to bring on Vardy and Sturridge, and then Jack Wilshere or Marcus Rashford when we were looking for a goal.
“It was a controlled decision. We knew that Harry and Raheem had worked very hard against the Russians. We made the decision to do it early, and that was the right decision.We wanted to inject more tempo and pace into our game, and for the players to take a few more risks and show confidence in and around the penalty area. They responded.”
The win was England’s first having trailed at the break in a major finals and was secured with Rashford on the pitch as their youngest player in the European Championship. It was cruel on Wales, with Coleman admitting he and his players had been left “absolutely devastated”. “But you have to show a bit of mettle, a bit of steel, and bounce back,” he said. “It’s still down to us. We’re not asking for any favours. We have to take care of business ourselves. We’re gutted after today and I’m disappointed how we lost this. You can’t tell me my players deserved that. Their effort and courage were fantastic. You have to ride your luck a bit but, for all that England had a lot of possession, Wayne Hennessey didn’t have to pull off save after save, so it was gut-wrenching for the players and our supporters. But, going into the last game, it’s still in our hands ... you have to take that.”
Hodgson praised the impact of his substitutes, “players who can come on and ask questions of a packed defence” and may now consider picking Vardy and Sturridge from the start in Monday’s final group game against Slovakia in St Etienne.
“It’s a great feeling, unbelievable,” Sturridge said. “I am grateful to the gaffer for the opportunity and God for allowing me to score. It is a brilliant feeling. It is only one more game in the group, so no one wants to get too excited, but the atmosphere in the group is unbelievable.”
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