The England manager claimed otherwise but he needed to secure top spot in Group B and a performance that demonstrated strength in depth to justify six changes from the team that defeated Wales.
1) Roy Hodgson’s selection gamble could prove costly
England failed to deliver on any count. Instead of facing a third-placed qualifier a short distance from their training base on Saturday in Paris, it is now a trek to Nice to play the runners-up in Group F on Monday. Portugal are a possibility - and who would bet against Cristiano Ronaldo finally finding his range against England? – followed by France should Hodgson’s team reach the quarter-finals. The manager argued he was being consistent by starting players who finished the win over Wales but there was no clearer illustration of a scheme not going to plan than the reappearance of Wayne Rooney after 56 minutes.
2) Wilshere and Henderson a mixed bag in midfield
The omission of Danny Drinkwater’s omission mystified before England arrived in France and continues to bewilder after Hodgson explored his midfield options against Slovakia. Only Jordan Henderson promoted his claims for future inclusion as Jack Wilshere’s performance indicated why he has been left carrying that cringeworthy lion around after training. “From the questions I realise his performance hasn’t been too highly rated by the mass media,” said Hodgson. He should not have needed a line of questioning to reach that conclusion. Wilshere was consistently careless in possession before being replaced by Rooney, who England fans were calling for shortly before half-time, whereas Henderson brought accuracy and a threat of his own, albeit not with his crossing. The lack of guile and runners from midfield remains a problem.
3) Hamsik stifled but Mak makes his mark
Marek Hamsik has finally lived up to Slovakia’s expectations of him at this tournament and it was a plus for England how they restricted space for the Napoli playmaker and kept him pinned deep in midfield. There was no opportunity for Hamsik to recreate the stunning finish that helped defeat Russia in the previous game, although his intelligent distribution enabled Robert Mak to enjoy a productive night against Ryan Bertrand. Both Slovakian wingers, Mak and Vladimir Weiss, failed to make the grade at Manchester City as teenagers but the right-sided midfielder, now with PAOK in Greece, was one of the few in white to unsettle the England defence. That said, he should have done more than unsettle it when a mix-up between Chris Smalling and Joe Hart presented Mak with an excellent chance he failed to convert early in the second half.
4) Sturridge peripheral, but Vardy’s pace troublesome
Of all the changes made by the England manager the inclusion of the Liverpool and Leicester City forwards brooked no argument. The pair were deservedly rewarded for turning the game against Wales, with Harry Kane so far showing the effects of playing 118 first-team games over the past two years without a break. Jamie Vardy occupied the Slovakian defence throughout with Martin Skrtel demonstrating why they and all defences are afraid of a striker with searing pace, when beaten in the race for Henderson’s inviting through ball. Daniel Sturridge, by contrast, was given little service in a wide right attacking position and his frustrations were evident as he frequently dropped deep into his own half seeking possession before being withdrawn. The finishing touches from both forwards were the main cause of an underwhelming result all round.
5) Dier the man Hodgson can ill-afford to rest
The Tottenham Hotspur man had sizeable responsibility in central midfield where the player to his left had only one competitive start to his name last season (Wilshere), while the one to his right had not started a competitive game since 7 April due to injury (Henderson). Dier brought balance to England’s midfield, shielded the defence from the menace of Hamsik throughout and also offered a creative outlet as England. Dier delivered two sublime long-range passes into Sturridge but on both occasions the Liverpool striker was unable to supply the first touch they merited. Still only 22, it was also encouraging to see England’s potential cover at centre-half barking instructions at Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling during the game. He is one midfielder Hodgson can ill-afford to rest.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010