Roy Hodgson’s decision to make wholesale changes backfired as England wasted the chance to top their Euro 2016 group, with a goalless draw against Slovakia only enough to see them through as runners-up to Wales.
Days after being praised to the hilt for his match-winning decision to bring on Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy in Lens, the Three Lions boss made an error in judgement by making six alterations for Group B clash at the Stade Geoffroy Guichard.
England had not made so many changes at a European Championship finals since 1980 and the gamble, however calculated, did not pay off as Slovakia’s stern defence held firm to secure a 0-0 draw in St Etienne.
Wales usurped Hodgson’s men at the top of Group B as a result, meaning they now advance in second place and face a last-16 clash with the runners-up of Group F in Nice next Monday. England therefore gave up the chance of facing a third-placed side at the Parc des Princes, just 34 miles from their Chantilly base, and makes their route to the final look more treacherous.
Hodgson’s selection will have no doubt dominated the post-match conversation last night, when control was not enough to earn victory, with a lack of cutting edge once again proving an issue.
Jamie Vardy’s one-on-one was the best chance of the first half and Dele Alli’s effort off the line was the closest they came after on a night when the loud roar of England’s support could not see them over the line.
Hodgson brought on captain Wayne Rooney and Spurs pair Harry Kane and Dele Alli, but the trio could not inspire a breakthrough.
This was another frustrating trip to St Etienne, 18 years on from the World Cup penalty shoot-out exit to Argentina and a bad time for their 100 per record against Slovakia to end.
The final whistle was met by a smattering of boos from the hearty travelling contingent that had cheered them on so vociferously, with England reducing their opponents to one rushed early effort in the first half.
Gary Cahill said England had done all they could to get the better of Slovakia.
“We tried and tried, time and time again,” Cahill said.
“They shut the door in our face. There is disappointment for us tonight. We dominated from start to finish but couldn’t shut the door.”
Hodgson made six changes but Cahill did not think that was a factor.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “We had the ball constantly, we didn’t have the cutting edge to open them up.
“In a game like that you need something special. We move on, we know we have a huge game coming up, it gives us time to get back fresh.”
Boss Hodgson also denied the changes had cost England: “That’s the hindsight reaction, if we had won the game people would have said we didn’t miss them,” he said.“If we don’t win the game then the team selection is wrong, I’m used to that.
“Finishing second in the group is a disappointment as we would have liked to have won it, but we’re still in the last 16 and who’s to say the team we’ll play now are that much stronger than the team we would have if we finished top. The way we’re playing at the moment, I’m not frightened of any team.”