Andros Townsend’s brilliant strike earns England a draw against Italy
Spurs midfielder cancels out Graziano Pelle’s first-half effort in Turin
Andros Townsend scores England’s equaliser past Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon during the friendly international at the Juventus Stadium in Turin. Photograph: Claudio Villa/Getty Images
Italy 1 England 1
As Gary Lineker volunteered a few minutes in, let’s hope Harry Kane can come out of this scoring slump. England’s new striker found it tough going on his first start although in fairness he was not the only one struggling for any momentum until one of the substitutes, his Spurs team-mate Andros Townsend, fired in the goal that maintains the team’s unbeaten record since the World Cup.
Townsend should cherish the moment he took aim, from over 20 yards out, and beat a goalkeeper of Gianluigi Buffon’s distinction with a pearl of a shot. The ball was still rising as it hit the net and England could conceivably have gone on to win the match from that point. Wayne Rooney alone could reflect on three second-half chances without managing to pull level with Lineker’s total of 48 England goals or get any closer to Bobby Charlton’s all-time record of 49.
Overall, though, it was an erratic night from Roy Hodgson’s team. Theo Walcott’s first start since September 2013 fell flat. Phil Jones showed why he is not an international midfielder and it was not exactly a distinguished occasion for Hodgson bearing in mind he had abandoned his two biggest experiments before the game had even reached half-time.
Hodgson had started with Rooney operating behind a new-look strikeforce of Walcott and Kane. That, however, was abandoned when Rooney and Walcott were instructed to swap positions. However it is dressed up, it felt like an admission from Hodgson that he had got it wrong.
As for Jones being used as a holding midfielder, that did not last until the interval either. Jones had been partly to blame for Graziano Pellè’s goal for Italy in the 29th minute but a player in that position surely needs to have the ability to put his foot on the ball and pick out a team-mate and the ideal candidate, Michael Carrick, was on the bench. Hodgson did at least appear to recognise the problem, bringing on Carrick and moving Jones back into defence rather than the other option of sending on Gary Cahill after Chris Smalling was forced out of the game, 42 minutes in, because he was feeling unwell.
Pellè has not scored in the Premier League since December 20th, a slump that has seen him lose his place recently in Ronald Koeman’s team, but he will rarely be left in the amount of space he was afforded once Giorgio Chiellini had eluded Jones to put over the cross for his goal. Jones allowed Chiellini to check inside him far too easily. Pellè was unmarked and applied just the right amount of fade to clip an expertly weighted header just inside Joe Hart’s left-hand post.
Rooney had struck the crossbar with a deflected shot eight minutes earlier but it was a subdued start from England and, for the most part, the opening half plodded along to a poor tempo.
These kind of occasions have been arranged to add a dash of colour to what has been, for England, a largely grey qualifying process. The people of Turin were clearly not that enthused by the idea of a friendly match at this stage of the season and, at times, it felt like neither were the players.
Kane had been given a classic old-school Italian introduction, courtesy of the seasoned warrior Chiellini, to dump him on the floor inside the opening minute. There was a hanging header at the far post in the first half but not a great deal else until his first chance, with the ball at his feet, seven minutes into the second half. His shot was deflected into the side-netting and shortly afterwards Rooney set up the overlapping Kieran Gibbs to do similar from the other side.
This was England’s first spell of prolonged pressure but it was an unproductive night for Walcott and it was not entirely easy to understand what Hodgson was hoping to achieve by employing a runner in the No 10 role. The position is totally unsuited for a player of Walcott’s qualities.
Walcott’s reputation has been made on his ability to break beyond the last line of defence rather than threading through killer passes and it ended with Hodgson bringing on Ross Barkley to replace him. Walcott is probably entitled to feel confused by his manager’s tactics and it would be unfair being too harsh on the Arsenal man.
The truth is nobody in England’s colours really excelled. Phil Jagielka made a fine interception in the first half to prevent Éder from the near-certainty of a goal and Hart spread himself well to block a shot from the same player early in the second half. Yet England looked vulnerable in defence and prone to carelessness in other areas of the pitch.
England’s Tottenham contingent was increased not just by Townsend in the second half but also Ryan Mason, winning his first cap. Townsend’s goal was struck brilliantly and in England’s next attack Rooney had the chance to turn the game completely on its head, denied by Buffon’s sprawling save.
Yet Italy could also reflect on scoring opportunities, most notably when the substitute Luca Antonelli dragged a left-foot shot narrowly wide.