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England 1 Hungary 1: Stones spares blushes but tame Three Lions fail to win home qualifier for first time since 2012

IT was the night when Gareth Southgate morphed into Pep Guardiola. And it is not an impersonation that we are likely to see the England manager perform again any time soon. Southgate selected five attacking players – and half of his starting line-up were from Guardiola’s Manchester City. But a crowd-pleasing line-up on paper proved […] ...

IT was the night when Gareth Southgate morphed into Pep Guardiola.

And it is not an impersonation that we are likely to see the England manager perform again any time soon.

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John Stones celebrates equalising for England in the first half[/caption]

Richard Pelham / The Sun

The Manchester City defender was in the right place to poke home[/caption]

Southgate selected five attacking players – and half of his starting line-up were from Guardiola’s Manchester City.

But a crowd-pleasing line-up on paper proved to be nothing of the sort out on the Wembley pitch as England diced with danger on their way to a disappointing draw.

And it was the first time they failed to win a home qualifier for any tournament since 2012.

The Three Lions will surely still qualify for next year’s World Cup finals in Qatar – they need only a win and a draw against Albania and San Marino next month to make certain.

Yet Southgate’s side lacked balance and shape – and, in truth, there are simply too many of them either out of form, or out of favour, with their clubs.

These include skipper Harry Kane and the City duo of Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish, who were all substituted well before the end.


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Of last night’s starting eleven, perhaps only Declan Rice has been tearing it up in the Premier League.

And in a 4-1-4-1 formation which demanded confidence and sharpness, England lacked both qualities.

Southgate believes that England must be more positive if they are to lift the World Cup – but this untidy showing did not back up that claim.

For all the attackers on show, it took a John Stones volley from a set-piece to earn England a point after Luke Shaw had conceded a penalty to gift Hungary the opener.

It is never too late to go boldly – William Shatner finally headed into space at the age of 90 last night.

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Roland Sallai sent Jordan Pickford the wrong way from the spot[/caption]

AP

Hungary had started the game well and took the lead at Wembley[/caption]

And after five years of, often unfair, grumbling about Southgate’s conservatism, here he threw off the shackles, released the handbrake, ripped off his belt and his braces and declared it party time.

He took advantage of an injury to England’s player of the year Kalvin Phillips and added an extra attacking midfielder to give his cast list an entertaining look.

Southgate had been emboldened by the way in which his team dismantled Hungary with four second-half goals in Budapest last month.

It was a teamsheet which brought smiles to faces and added spring to steps as they read it on their smartphones down Wembley Way.

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Police were forced to use their batons in the away end at Wembley[/caption]

Richard Pelham / The Sun

One Hungary fan was left bleeding after trouble flared in the stands[/caption]

Rex

Some Hungary fans held out a banner against players taking the knee[/caption]

And yet it soon became apparent that the Hungarians – who had lost home to Albania at the weekend – were not going to play the role of training-ground cones to Southgate’s collection of dribblers and flair merchants.

The atmosphere, though, was bizarre – 95 per cent of the crowd had a shrill and excitable family-stand feel about it but the small section reserved for Hungarians in riot mode, as they threw punches at baton-wielding police in disgraceful early scenes.

On the pitch there was a fair amount of fight about the visiting players too.

Any team has to earn the right to play and England were not paying their dues in midfield – while Hungary played more like the team who scared France and Germany during the Euros rather than the one which had made a pig’s ear of their qualifying campaign.

Richard Pelham / The Sun

Harry Kane was hauled off after another disappointing performance[/caption]

Richard Pelham / The Sun

It was the first time since 2017 Kane hasn’t scored in a home qualifier[/caption]

There was one burst from Shaw down the left and a cross which was nicked off Kane’s toes by Zsolt Nagy.

But England had failed to muster a shot on target by the time Hungary stunned Wembley with the opener.

Shaw took one loose touch and then as he attempted to clear, he was penalised for a high boot on the on-rushing Loic Nego and ref Alejandro Hernandez pointed to the spot, yellow-carding the Manchester United left-back.

Roland Sallai sent Jordan Pickford the wrong way from the spot and suddenly England’s stroll towards Qatar had taken a stumble.

Southgate’s men did react well, though, and they should have had a penalty of their own three minutes later when Kane was bundled over by Attila Szalai – with Hernandez and his VAR unmoved.

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Jack Grealish was fuming after being substituted for England against Hungary[/caption]

Seven minutes before half-time, Grealish was fouled and Foden’s right-wing free-kick, aimed at Tyrone Mings, flicked off a Hungarian defender for Stones to volley in at the back stick.

Then England relaxed into the sort of stride Southgate would have envisaged from the start/

There was a glorious City-slicker interchange – Foden’s visionary pass picking out Sterling, who fed Grealish, who took one touch too many.

Then a Shaw centre found Sterling at the far post and his header was pushed out by Peter Gulacsi.

But despite a storming end to the first half, England looked disjointed and wide open at the start of the second – lacking control or shape and surviving a few hairy moments.

Richard Pelham / The Sun

Hungary fans celebrated by letting off a smoke bomb in the first half[/caption]

After a frustrating hour, Grealish was hooked to make way for Bukayo Saka.

Kane had slipped through Sterling, only for Gulacsi to come out and smother, before his 76th-minute substitution in favour of Tammy Abraham – who had to limp off in injury-time.

Sterling was also withdrawn, Jordan Henderson replacing him as Southgate returned to a more familiar 4-2-3-1, officially declaring his experiment as a failure.

And even in a conventional shape, England could not find a way through.

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