LONDON, August 12 – Steven Gerrard helped Fabio Capello avoid another chastening experience as the England captain's double strike secured a 2-1 win over Hungary in Wednesday's friendly at Wembley.
Just 45 days after their dismal departure from the World Cup, Capello’s side were back in action in a fixture that few associated with the national team were looking forward to and, for a while, it looked like being another dispiriting match for the under-fire Italian.
Capello was shifting uncomfortably in his seat as jeers cascaded down from the Wembley stands after Phil Jagielka’s second half own goal gave Hungary a shock lead.
But Gerrard lifted the deepening gloom with two goals in the space of four minutes to give some respite to Capello, heavily criticised following England’s 4-1 World Cup defeat against Germany, on a day when he called time on David Beckham’s international career.
Capello’s desire to draw a veil over the debacle in South Africa was apparent from his decision to revitalise his squad with an infusion of young blood.
He made four changes to the team thrashed 4-1 by Germany, with Joe Hart, Jagielka, Theo Walcott and Adam Johnson coming into the starting eleven.
England’s players and manager emerged from the tunnel just before kick-off to be greeted by plenty of empty seats but no real outpouring of venom from the crowd despite Capello’s admission that they deserved to be booed.
There were jeers when the names of Ashley Cole, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney were read out over the public address system.
Then Terry and Cole had to endure boos for the first 20 minutes, but the taunts gradually died out.
Capello had sent England out in a new-look 4-3-3 formation and the tactical switch meant Gerrard was playing in his favoured central role.
The Liverpool midfielder broke forward early on to slip a pass through to Rooney, who clipped his shot past Gabor Kiraly, only for the goal to be ruled out for offside.
Johnson should have scored when Walcott’s cut-back picked out the winger, but he snatched at the chance and blazed over from 12 yards.
Gerrard went much closer with a curling, dipping free-kick from the left edge of the penalty area which Kiraly pushed over.
The crowd’s frustration at England’s lack of goals showed itself as jeers greeted the half-time whistle.
Capello sent on Kieran Gibbs and Bobby Zamora for their debuts after the break, while Michael Dawson, Ashley Young, and later Jack Wilshere, also entered the fray.
There was still no cutting edge to England’s play despite the changes and the lack of imagination was obvious as Gerrard and Johnson sent shots tamely over.
England’s response was to push too many players forward in search of a goal and they were caught out in the 62nd minute.
When Dawson slipped as he tried to clear, Hungary’s Zoltan Gera surged towards the penalty area.
Jagielka’s attempt to block the cross only succeeded in deflecting the ball past Hart and, although Dawson lunged to clear it off the line, the linesman ruled the ball had already crossed, a decision which appeared debatable after seeing television replays.
Boos echoed around the stands and when Rooney was substituted there were more jeers.
But, just as the evening threatened to turn nasty, Gerrard came to Capello’s rescue in the 69th minute.
Seizing possession just outside the penalty area, he flashed a long-range strike past Kiraly before embarking on a manic celebration that seemed to be appealing for more support from the crowd.
Gerrard had the fans out of their seats again in the 73rd minute when he cleverly turned two Hungarian defenders before firing low past Kiraly.
Even then it took a fine save from Hart, keeping out Gera’s near-post drive, to stop Hungary snatching the equaliser that would have brought more woe for Capello.