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Is The Halo Slipping?


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England had lost, the Russians were celebrating, and the Sky cameraman scanned the pitch for the first scapegoat in a white shirt. My money was on Paul Robinson, but no, true to tradition, his lens picked out the captain and Steven Gerrard was suddenly centre screen and looking every inch a crestfallen man. No identification or commentary was needed, nevertheless Richard Keys clearly felt obliged to give immediate and heartfelt absolution with these words - ??and Steven Gerrard, he CANNOT be blamed for this defeat?. Alright, I might be overdoing the emphasis a little, but the implication was obvious, even if the intonation was not, and it amounted to yet further confirmation of Stevie G?s iconic and untouchable status in the eyes of the Media.

In that one sentence it was as if Keys had, on behalf of the silent, disciple-like majority, merely stated the bleeding obvious - that there is indeed a law against blaming Gerrard for anything he ever does wrong on a football field. However, whilst the BBC set similar standards and John Motson habitually ignores such events when they occur, the Keys intervention took things a stage further for this observer. In short, having witnessed another uninspiring performance from the Saintly One, capped by a technically inept attempt to hit the target when at his mercy, viewers were now being told not to cast the first stone in his direction. Is it too much to ask why not?

Well, according to subsequent analysis by Glen Hoddle and Jamie Redknapp he probably had too much time to think about his volley and, when he did get around to hitting it, he got his shape slightly wrong, thereby missing the [big barn door] goal altogether. And that was it. No more thoughts on his individual contribution to a game that saw the central midfielder and his best buddy bypassed in a second half dominated by Russians tanking past them to niggle away at an overexposed back four. Not a Dickie Bird about the team?s, and more particularly the captain?s, abject failure to invoke the spirit of Istanbul or Barcelona when it was needed most. Is it too much to ask why not?

Well, it would be all too embarrassing wouldn?t it? The clamour to install Stevie and Gareth into the heart of the England team and consign Frank to the subs bench not only came from the mindless phone-in fraternity, but also the mindless Media masses. Hoddle, Redknapp, followed later by Alan Hansen and David Moyes, all had an opportunity to criticise the 4-4-2 (henceforth known as the Not Frank Lampard Formation) and chose instead to praise England?s initial hour of glory. How these pundits could disregard the constant probing and chance making of the Russian forwards, even during that opening period, is beyond me.

Guus Hiddink, astute tactician that he is, wasn?t going to fail to spot our weakness at full back (Lescott in for his height and not much else, Richards always better going forward than defending) and Joe and SWP could cover for only so much of the time before they gave up their attacking duties altogether. The sixty minute mark inclusion of Pavlyuchenko was a masterstroke, held as he was like a trump card to be played at the right moment, but even after the equaliser McClaren still failed to appreciate the need to bolster his flagging midfield. Undoubted naivety on the tactical front and an ultimate willingness to pander to the public outcry against Frank will cost the England manager his job, but sadly this will only serve to paper over the cracks that Richard Keys spotted so quickly in Steven Gerrard?s makeup.

Make no bones about it, last night the England stand in captain didn?t summon up the sinews, step up to the plate, grasp the nettle, or seize the day in any way, shape, or form. It seems he can only do so when the odds are stacked so high against him that failure is expected and therefore recrimination is not something to be fearful of. After the evidence of this game, and many others played in over the years, it is now patently obvious he needs that safety net to perform his high wire miracles. Then again, when you have a whole nation in denial and a Richard Keys absolution in your pocket, you've got a pretty big safety net anyway and it could be that you just bottle it big time.

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Well, this is awkward!

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