By Martyn Herman
The memory of the opening 45 minutes of England’s brief World Cup adventure in steamy Brazil when Roy Hodgson’s young cavaliers tore into Italy with joyful abandon now seems like a figment of the imagination.
Despite that encounter in Manaus ending in a rather undeserved 2-1 defeat, the mood afterwards was upbeat with talk of new dawns and an England side packed with pace and movement that could only get better.
A subsequent defeat by Uruguay and a stultifying 0-0 draw with Costa Rica meant England returned crestfallen, although they were spared the usual media backlash, probably because a thrilling tournament was providing other distractions.
The long period of goodwill Hodgson has enjoyed hitherto in his reign appears to be running out, however.
Wednesday’s 1-0 win at home to Norway in a dire friendly played out in a half-empty Wembley stadium was greeted with a chorus of disapproval and for the first time Hodgson is beginning to come under attack from media and fans alike.
The clash with a limited Norway side was supposed to be a fresh start before a routine-looking Euro 2016 qualification campaign begins in Switzerland on Monday.
Instead, it highlighted just how far England’s stock has fallen. Lacking creativity, self-belief and saddled with an archaic 4-4-2 system after halftime, Hodgson’s side looked exactly what they are – a mediocre international team.
From the all out attack against Italy, Hodgson’s side were hesitant in possession and lacking rhythm while the manager himself appears to have gone on the defensive, both tactically and with his spiky demeanour.
“Don’t hit me with statistics,” Hodgson barked at journalists who pointed out that England had managed only two shots on target – one of them Wayne Rooney’s successful penalty.
“We can’t get rid of the baggage,” Hodgson added in British media on Friday. “We can’t change the fact that we’ve had a bad World Cup. We can’t play those games against Italy and Uruguay again but I think you have to give me the entitlement (the right to do the job) at least.”
While the link-up play between Liverpool duo Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge offered some bright moments, Hodgson is hardly blessed with a raft of exciting talent – no so-called golden generation about to break through.
The paucity of the depth of real international class in English football was evident in Hodgson’s assertion that “the fact of the matter is we haven’t got many more.”
“There are four or five very good players who are not here because of injury,” he said.
“Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw in defence, Ross Barkley and Adam Lallana in central midfield. There are people like Jon Flanagan at right-back. We have long-term injuries with Jay Rodriguez. They are youngsters.”
True, but none of the names he reeled off are established internationals and have only a smattering of England caps between them and virtually no experience in the pinnacle of world club football, the Champions League.
There was a weariness to some of Hodgson’s comments following the Norway match – an echo of some of his predecessors such as Graham Taylor, Sven Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello, all of whom came under attack from the media at various times during their spells in charge.
His view of the game appeared at odds with that of most observers who feel England are regressing.
“If we’d have played badly, if a lot of players had had really poor performances, if the quality of our passing and movement was nothing like I wanted to see, if our defending wasn’t as compact, aggressive or organised as it was for long periods, I’d be the first to say so,” Hodgson said.
“But I’m not going to say it’s that just because we had a bad World Cup.”
All is not lost for Hodgson but the warning signs are there after a meagre seven wins from their last 18 matches – a run that has seen them drop to 20th in the FIFA world rankings.
Adopting the kind of siege mentality Hodgson appears to be slipping into usually alienates the trigger-happy media.
Another poor performance against ninth-ranked Switzerland on Monday would give plenty more ammunition to the snipers and leave Hodgson facing his first real crisis since taking over from Capello shortly before the Euro 2012 finals.