Pearce and Parker’s Patchwork England Fall Short Against Flying Dutchmen

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By Alex Trayling on 5.3.2024

Pearce and Parker’s Patchwork England Fall Short Against Flying Dutchmen

So in what turned out to be England’s first match in the post Fabio Capello era, Stuart Pearce’s patchwork England side went down 3-2 at home to the Netherlands. A peculiar England XI made up of both experienced internationals and younger faces came out second best but wiser for the experience against a formidable Dutch outfit that barely got out of second gear. The official FIFA rankings may say that there are only 2 places separating the two nations (the Dutch sitting in 3rd and the English in 5th respectively), but the gulf in class on Wednesday night was evident for all to see.

Before the match, there was debate over the England caretaker boss’ decision to name Scott Parker captain for the night, a player who has only in the past twelve months cemented his place in the England side. He is arguably the country’s most improved player in recent times, turning out consistently good performances for West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur and in turn receiving many individual plaudits; not least the Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year award for last season. He embodies a tough tackling spirit above all, a commitment that has been missing in an England shirt for some time.

Did Parker justify being selected captain ahead of more experienced internationals such as Steven Gerrard and Gareth Barry however? Whilst Parker may lack creativity, he certainly got fans on their feet with his apparent urgency, charging down Dutch attacks on more than one occasion and generally leading from the front. The flexibility of England’s midfield particularly from Parker was encouraging as he often came deep to play England’s way forward patiently, while thwarting Dutch attacks with uncompromising challenges. However this fluidity in England’s midfield was short lived as Gerrard was substituted by 30 minutes after picking up a hamstring strain. With this, England’s formation changed and in Gerrard’s replacement, Daniel Sturridge, Parker was deprived of a link between himself and England’s forward line. It is difficult to give a definitive answer to whether Scott Parker is England’s best bet to captain the side at the European Championships, and although England did not win the game, the Spurs midfielder did himself no harm. It remains to be seen who Fabio Capello’s successor chooses to lead out the Three Lions in Ukraine against France on the 11th of June.

With the scoreline goalless at half time, and Stuart Pearce’s (relatively) young lions looking comfortable, we had every reason to be positive. ‘Psycho’ had given a clear idea of how he wanted to play. Short, careful, if patient passing play waiting for spaces to open up in a way that only Spain can carry out so elegantly. However, radical tactical changes are not mastered overnight, and with an “experimental” team on display, this is still a work in progress.

James Milner was introduced at half time replacing his Manchester City teammate Gareth Barry in the hope of carving open some clear cut chances, yet before long, in the 57th minute, former Chelsea man Arjen Robben scored a sublime individual effort to guide the Oranje into the lead; reminding English fans exactly what we have been missing since his departure from the Premier League. After picking up a loose ball halfway inside the Dutch half he proceeded to run with the ball at a frightening pace into the English half and was able to fire in a bullet of a shot into the corner of Joe Hart’s net. The goal wouldn’t have been possible however without the help of Klaas Jan Huntelaar’s intelligent movement off the ball, which single-handedly exploited England’s inexperienced central defensive partnership of Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill. It was counter attacking football at its very best.

Seconds later they were at it again. Nigel de Jong robbed Ashley Young on the halfway line, leaving the Dutch attackers Wesley Sneijder and goal scorer Robben to tease England’s back line exchanging passes, and when Dirk Kuyt’s pinpoint cross found its way into the middle of the penalty area Huntelaar knew exactly what to do. The prolific Schalke marksman rose bravely into the air to nod in a powerful header leaving Joe Hart with no chance. Robben was quoted as saying “there’s so much quality in this side” after the match – and it is very hard to disagree with that based on watching this goal – a sight European fans may become all too well acquainted with at this summer’s Championships. This wasn’t without its problems however, as a clash of the heads with Chris Smalling demonstrated. Both players substituted off – Huntelaar with a blooded nose and a mouth full of grass and Smalling leaving the field on a stretcher.

This delay in play may only have served to distract the attention from Bert van Marwijk’s side as you feel they could have romped home to a far more comfortable scoreline. Yet it would be extremely unfair on England to deny them any credit in coming back from 2 goals down against the World Cup finalists.

With less than 5 minutes to go, Leighton Baines played a superb ball into Gary Cahill to slice through the Dutch defence, who, bafflingly was through on goal. Not for the first time on international duty, Cahill proved clinical enough inside the penalty box to get one goal back for England and to restore some pride to the wounded lions.

Marshalled all the way by stand-in captain Parker, his men were growing in confidence and helped provide a grandstand finish for the 76,000 strong crowd at Wembley. With the ball being passed around with added purpose, and the English piling forward to grab a last gasp equaliser, Stuart Pearce would have been proud as his players kept their nerve and showed their poise; resulting in a delicate Ashley Young chip over the despairing Maarten Stekelenberg in goal after receiving an inch perfect ball from Manchester United teammate Phil Jones.

Less pleased he would have been however to see the Netherlands go straight into England’s half with relative ease only for that man Arjen Robben to secure the win for the away side thanks to a curling shot – ending the hopes of a possible English comeback. And it was no less than they deserved.

After the match, Pearce said that he “learnt a hell of a lot about certain individuals” and the impressive Micah Richards mused that “it was an opportunity for the younger players to force themselves into the Euro squad. When you go to tournaments you need a bit of experience and that’s what these friendlies are for.” Food for thought at least, as there is genuine belief among the England camp that progress is being made. Vital match experience against sides like Holland will only aid the development of the team, as the integration of younger players amongst the senior set-up is well underway.

England however do not have a whole qualifying campaign to integrate fringe players and those from the U21 side; not least with the FA dismissing the need to address the vacant managerial position “until the back-end of the domestic season”. Therefore this current learning curve cannot come soon enough with the European Championships just on the horizon.

What stuck out the most is England’s lack of a natural finisher (Cahill aside). And with Wayne Rooney banned for the first two group games in the Euro’s, his supporting cast will need to step up a level in double quick time to ensure the country is healthily placed to make the knockout stages in an increasingly ominous group.


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