Townsend rewards Hodgson faith with England equaliser in Italy
Andros Townsend’s presence in the England squad has been a bone of contention. Critics claimed he was dining off his scoring debut against Montenegro, which helped the Three Lions reach the last World Cup.
Roy Hodgson’s faith in the Tottenham winger was repaid once again as he came to England’s rescue in Turin, however, making the perfect impact off the bench after cancelling out an opener from Azzurri and Southampton striker Graziano Pelle.
A draw against an Italian outfit, who in midfield especially were lightweight on paper, may still be something of a disappointment, but Three Lions goalie Joe Hart, celebrating his 50th cap, and Phil Jageilka made key contributions in defence.
Multiple Azzurri engine room absences notwithstanding, the middle of the park was hugely congested throughout this encounter. Lazio’s Marco Parolo forced Hart to tip over a long-range dipping drive early on.
It was far from one way traffic, though, with England captain Wayne Rooney seeing an effort deflected onto the bar after 20 minutes. Fabian Delph’s delicious ball reaching the back post and Harry Kane’s subsequent knockdown in the build-up were rare lapses from a resolute and hugely experienced Italian back three.
When the Three Lions and Azzurri last met at the World Cup in Brazil, dealing with the second ball from a corner was an issue for Hodgson. This reared its ugly head again here, with Giorgio Chiellini shrugging off Phil Jones, deployed in the holding role until Manchester United teammate Chris Smalling came off injured, and finding Pelle, who deftly headed home on half an hour.
Just a second strike in 17 outings for club and country from Saints centre forward Pelle justified Conte’s rotation policy for this fixture and his retention of the player, despite such a dramatic dip in form.
Italy full back Matteo Darmian continued to put himself in the shop window for a big move away from Turin here in the stadium of his current club’s rivals. His determination and drive down the left flank here set up Brazilian-born Eder after the break, but Hart denied him before a sloppy Jagielka clearance was fortunately blasted wide by Pelle.
Kane and Kieran Gibbs both shot into the side-netting for England, and Antonio Conte then rang Azzurri changes. These almost paid off immediately with Argentine-born Franco Vazquez chesting down for Ciro Immobile, but Jagielka did just enough.
Rooney then stung the palms of the hosts’ skipper Gianluigi Buffon, restored in goal for Italy after illness. Andrea Ranocchia did just enough moments later to stop Kane from teeing up Rooney when veteran substitute Emiliano Moretti made a jittery error.
If the Three Lions’ last win saw one Spurs star steal the headlines, connections at White Hart Lane will be delighted with the equaliser 10 minutes from time. Townsend was teed up by teammate Ryan Mason, who made his bow off the bench here, and that allowed the wing to blast past Buffon from the edge of the box.
The Azzurri captain had to be on hand to thwart Rooney and Kane again, with AC Milan left back Luca Antonelli dragging wide sandwiched in between these late England openings.
You just can’t shake the feeling that Italy were there for the taking here, and a failure to get a grip of midfield against debutant anchorman Mirko Valdifiori, who plays for mid-table Serie A outfit Empoli, is a major missed opportunity.
Much of the build-up to this battle was about those Azzurri icons, namely Daniele De Rossi and Andrea Pirlo, that were absent. Marco Parolo and Roberto Soriano are pale imitations of these World Cup winners and another missing Juventus link in sidelined midfielder Claudio Marchisio.
Michael Carrick went into the engine room when Smalling was substituted and Jones dropped back, so this helped to give England some composure, but it’s worrying long-term that Jordan Henderson lacked the tactical astuteness of what to do here.
Theo Walcott’s use a striker, meanwhile, looks a failed experiment, with comparisons to the conversion previous Arsenal number 14 Thierry Henry underwent well wide of the mark on this evidence.
Crushing competitive opposition in what has always been billed as a kind Euro 2016 qualification group is clearly a false indicator of where Hodgson’s charges are.
Sharing the spoils with a European elite nation, using a midfield Conte cobbled together very much from the margins of Azzurri fringes, means a major question mark remains over the Lions’ ability to raw at a major tournament.