As usual in tournament football, supporting your team can be a bit of a rollercoaster ride and yet again, England did not fail in getting the heart pumping. It was a bitter pill to swallow in the end but not one England cannot come back from and while there were plenty of good moments, there are issues that need to be fixed.
Starting with the positives, England overall put in a strong performance. They controlled the game and possession, limiting Russia to scraps for long periods of the game and even though there was not enough clear cut opportunities, they did create some chances at goal.
Wayne Rooney was great in the midfield, controlling the pace of the game and creating the big diagonals that spread the Russians thin, putting them under great pressure. Both Danny Rose and Kyle Walker were excellent too, working down the flanks to support the forward play as well as earning their keep by tracking back.
Eric Dier also showed his importance to the team with the man of the match display. He stopped any attacks coming from the Russians, breaking down play and keeping possession well, with his goal being the icing on the cake.
The system also worked for long periods, especially for the likes of Adam Lallana, who impressed in the first half. In the second period, Harry Kane became too isolated and Raheem Sterling was often running into avenues without much support, so mixing it into a 4-2-3-1 going forward might give the team a better balance.
The big problem arose after 70 minutes, when Roy Hodgson finally made some substitutions. They were a little late in the game to affect much and they were very negative, especially given England’s position in the game and that he would have not made them if the team were still searching for a goal.
Taking Rooney off seemed suspect even if he was slowing in the game and his replacement, Jack Wilshire, was like-for-like and he did his best. Bringing James Milner on for Sterling showed everything you needed to know, England wanted to sit on the one-nil lead they had and take the three points home.
It’s right that they were still unlucky to concede at the end to an opposition that had not turned up for the other 90 minutes but in football you create your own luck. With them likely to push on, bringing on any of the forwards on the bench would have kept them on the backfoot and susceptible to the counter attack.
What was more worrying is the fact that there wasn’t just one option to put in that role either. Jamie Vardy, Daniel Sturridge and Marcus Rashford would have pressured the aging Russian defence as they tired and pushed for an equaliser. They all could fill a role out wide too if needed, so he did not even need to switch tactics to bring them on.
That negative attitude to hold on cost England dear, with Milner ever rushing out too far that allowed the cross in to the box and the biggest lesson they should learn is that their positivity was what got them into a winning position in the first place. Hodgson needs to trust his attackers and in a key derby game against Wales, England need to make a statement of intent or face more embarrassment from a team that are just as desperate to win.
In fact, this game could be do or die for Hodgson. Win and he can hopefully see the light to set course for greater victories down the road but if he fails to, he could be heading for disaster which would mean his head would be on the chopping block.