TWO assists for John Stones, then – one for the equalizer for Poland and one for the winner of England.
Gareth Southgate had viewed Stones’ resurgence at Manchester City as a game changer, allowing him to tear his unpopular back five and pair him with Man United captain Harry Maguire in a flat back four.
So what to do with that? Stones and Maguire looked fragile on defense as Poland gave Southgate a serious scare in the second half, but the two Yorkshiremen combined for the winner.
At least the win gives England control of their World Cup qualifying squad.
But they will surely have to tighten up at the back to have a chance of success at the Euros this summer.
Stones has been a mainstay of a quadruple pursuit team and returned to the England side last week after a gap of almost 18 months.
But for all of his beautiful attributes, Stones can be a good old brain.
And one of those moments saw Polish Brighton midfielder Jakub Moder equalize Harry Kane’s penalty in the first half.
England led the first half but as soon as the Poles showed some ambition they were seriously shaken up.
And you can bet Stones’ blunder will scare Southgate into his comfort blanket consisting of three center-backs and wingers. You can hardly blame him.
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The last time Stones played for England against a decent side, the Dutch in the 2019 Nations League semi-finals, he made two screams that doomed the Southgate side to defeat.
And the City man doesn’t look so confident without the brilliant Ruben Dias by his side.
Southgate was lucky with the absentees of the opposition in his time – his two 2018 World Cup knockout victories came when main Colombian man James Rodriguez was injured and against Sweden when powerful Zlatan Ibrahimovic was temporarily retired.
Eden Hazard missed Belgium’s League of Nations defeat here in the fall and here is Poland without its only world-class player, Robert Lewandowski, and with another offensive threat, Arkadiusz Milik surprisingly left on the bench until at halftime.
Southgate made just one change from Sunday’s 2-0 victory in Albania, with Ben Chilwell replacing Luke Shaw at left-back – and he remained with a flat-back four.
Poland’s new boss, ex-Leicester and Swansea coach Paulo Sousa, has spoken of possession-based football but there was little sign of it as the visitors sat deep at the start.
England patiently probed, Mount and Foden passing and moving and floating and floating, Sterling dribbling and leading.
And it was a warning play from Foden that put England on the path to a first game in the 19th minute.
Foden took possession of the ball and freed Sterling who leapt forward, ran out of space, decelerated and ‘invited contact’ from Barnsley defender Michal Helik.
Cunning? Streetwise? Cheating? Take your pick but referee Bjorn Kuipers pointed to the spot, there was no VAR to knock him down and even if there is a VAR in the Euros he probably would have backed it the same way as you will do it to do 45 mph. on an empty section of the M1.
Kane battled the kick straight down the middle and he’s now England’s leading penalty scorer with 11, beating Frank Lampard.
The Spurs man is deadly on the spot. Maybe he should move to Manchester United. He was scoring 50 goals a season there, 32 in penalties.
Whenever Sterling pounced on them, the Polish defense seemed to panic – although he could have defended Foden rather than shooting himself on his next foray.
The next time around, Sterling went on a Ricky Villa run, zigzagging through the poles like a slalom skier, only to be denied by a last minute tackle.
Then a sweet trade – a pass from Mount, a layoff from Foden and a kick from Kane repelled by goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – a man whose name we had learned to spell before leaving Arsenal, but had since forgotten.
Declan Rice was leading the midfielder again, alongside him Kalvin Phillips reportedly increased his success rate by playing plenty of safe and obvious passes.
Sousa sent Milik off at halftime and Poland looked more alive – Stones and Nick Pope got confused and almost allowed the newcomer.
It was a warning for Poland’s leveler in the 57th minute – Pope passed out, Stones absent-mindedly played a loose ball, which Moder jumped on, knocked the Manchester City man aside, traded passes with Milik and hammered into the distance. corner.
It was the first goal Pope had conceded in his seventh England appearance – not that he had had too many saves to make before that.
The Poles had ditched their full five and looked full now – Milik out of the frame with a free head he should have buried.
England’s defense was often put aside at will, but it always posed a threat to the future.
And when they won a corner kick in the 85th minute, Foden delivered from the left, Stones narrowed the header past the far post and Maguire hit home a winner.
Relief for Southgate, but more questions than answers.