Somehow Southgate’s England managed to rack up 7 against the might of North Macedonia, while keeping to the Southgate tropes of passing backwards and boring people to death.
Of course after talking up beating the might of Malta, the Channel 4 commentators were talking up beating the might of North Macedonia, who like despite what they might have done to others, much like Malta didn’t turn up.
They had to be patient for a lot longer than on Friday night, it taking half an hour before opening the scoring, managing just one shot on target in that time. An opening half an hour in which St. Rashford decided he had to get a goal at his home ground and sod anyone else that was in a better position. Classic Southgate England greed.
Though for that opener he did pass the ball off to Shaw, who underlapped to the byline and whose cross – to no one in particular – found Kane to swing his left and get yet another international goal. It was about the only decent – if unintentional – ball that Kane received in the box all night.
Again it was something that worked and wasn’t seen enough after. There was acres of space on both wings for over/underlapping fullbacks to exploit but they didn’t The prime example of course though comes on the right, as Southgate’s favourite, Walker, returned to the fold. Time and again he received the ball in acres of space, had a little spurt forward, then still in acres of space with nobody blocking his path he stopped, stood, then passed the ball backwards. Every time Stones gave him the ball, the Man city player new what was coming as he would rush back to take the ball when Walker passed it back.
There was one glorious moment in the second half when after playing Foden the ball, Walker rushed forward but was most surprised when Foden passed the ball forward to him. Said it before, say it again, hasn’t got the brains god gave a pigeon. Even his club manager said he hasn’t a brain.
He did actually get forward earlier and it did lead to a goal but much like the Shaw cross, it was a hit and hope job, which found Saka who slammed home his first of the night.
The third came on the break as England pressed with Kane winning the ball on the edge of the NM box, lovely inside flick to Henderson who did the same for St. Rashford to get his goal.
The one Southgate trope that show an appearance was the post-halftime drop off. That lacklustre return to the pitch after Southgate and his sidekick have given them the halftime talk. It only took a couple of minutes for Saka to get his second. NM totally opened up Trent Alexander Arnold – who didn’t really turn up much after all the post Malta eulogies – launched a long ball from halfway inside the England half, for Saka to pick it up not far from the NM box. A couple of touches, one with his chest and it fell brilliantly for him to slam home his second. For once things were done with minimal touches and forward.
His hat-trick came shortly after. Don’t know what TAA was doing when giving the ball away but it fell to Kane just inside the NM half, from where he played the type of ball he’d love to be on the end of but no one ever gives him and Saka was through one-on-one with the keeper before sliding the ball past him.
Southgate then decided to make changes, yes the players going off understandable. The players coming on. Well, yet again Southgate felt he needed another look at Grealish and Foden. Why? Hasn’t he seen enough of them to know what to expect? What we all expect is what we got here for half an hour. Foden played the ball backwards, he faced backwards, he ran back to his own goal and he passed it that way.
Why no Eze? Why not see what he can do? Well, Gareth doesn’t like the possibility of someone showing up his favourites by doing something. Grealish slowed everything up, came inside, got crowded out and contributed nothing, ample opportunity to get crosses into the box or play someone in, he did it once.
Shortly after the subs one of them got his first England goal. Grealish, finally, git a cross in after playing chuckle Brothers ball with Shaw. Under pressure from Kane the NM defender just knocked the ball to Kalvin Phillips for a tap in.
A few minutes later as the fourth official was waiting to lift the board showing Wilson was going to replace Kane, Stones was brought down at an England corner, the wrestling started outside the box but Stones made sure he went over inside. So Kane with his last kick of the match slammed home yet another cracking pen for his second – having seen little or no service all game.
It was much like the Malta game, England had these goals but the keeper had little to do in between. And the goals showed what England could do but for the vast majority of the match don’t. Grealish, had plenty of chances to put crosses in as for Phillips goal, but didn’t. Walker and Shaw had plenty of opportunities to get forward and put crosses in but didn’t. There was space for long balls over the top but not taken. They only had another 3 shots on target all game.
Why do things that can lead to goals when you can pass back… well… it pleases some… Andros Townsend was ecstatic…