Written by James Clarke…
England’s wait for a first victory over the Netherlands for twenty years continues… after the official fans team, like their senior counterparts, suffered a defeat to the Oranje on Tuesday.
Baddiel and Skinner and Gina G were battling it out at the top of the charts in the summer of 1996 when Shearer, Sheringham, Gascoigne et al delivered the performance of a generation against Guus Hiddink’s men under the twin towers. Two decades later, in driving rain a (John) stone’s throw away from the Wembley arch, England were themselves well beaten, losing 5-1 to a crack Dutch outfit.
From top left: Myles Wilsen, Nathan Agwunchah, James Clarke, Paul Newstead, Gary Shanihan, Paul Lindsey, Barrie Tullis (C), Graham Taylor, Alex Moore, Mel Kenny, Ethan Coffey, Ben Ashfield, Dan Hare.
Buoyed by an impressive showing in Berlin on Easter Saturday, manager Ed Rhodes encouraged his team to keep the ball on the deck and pass the ball out from defence. There was plenty of cut and thrust too, with Paul Lindsey dominating the midfield battle early on, Dan Hare – every bit the modern full back – rampaging down the left, and the marauding Ben Ashfield causing the Dutch defence plenty of problems.
It was Myles Wilson who came closest to breaking the deadlock for England, the pacey front-man getting in behind the Dutch defence down the inside left channel and opening up his body Thiery Henry-style, only to see his shot go agonisingly the wrong side of the far post.
England were made to pay moments later. They were guilty of stepping off one of the stylish Dutch midfielders as he strode forward, perhaps assuming he wouldn’t be able to find the back of the net from 25 yards. He was – with some aplomb.
Despite being backed by a vociferous away support, the Dutch created little else in the first half, often resorting to long balls which experienced centre half duo Graham Taylor and Paul Newstead – and on occasion, ‘keeper sweeper’ Mel Kenny – dealt with comfortably. But nor did England threaten the Dutch goal, and the men in orange led 1-0 at the break.
The Dutch take one of several first half corners
Rhodes raised eyebrows at half time with a bold substitution, stripping off his track suit and entering the fray at – nominally – right back. Once again England started the half on the front foot, and had the opportunity to make their pressure tell when Dan Hare whipped in a cross from the left, only for the Dutch defence to handle inside the area. Referee Dave Beverley was left with little choice but to point to the spot. It was Alex Moore who stepped up to the plate – having missed a crucial penalty in Ireland he banished that ghost by blasting the spot kick into the roof of the net. This was his Stuart Pearce moment.
Unfortunately that was to be the high water mark for England. The Dutch had a young fit squad, and used the rolling substitutes rule to maximum effect, constantly rotating their players and staying fresh. As the second half wore on they increasingly took the ascendancy. They scored two in as many minutes to effectively end the game as a contest, before adding two more late on with some clinical finishing against a visibly tiring English back line, two games in 72 hours finally catching up on the England team.
Right full back James Clarke lines up for an England throw
Trailing 5-1, England’s hopes of a dramatic comeback were ended when the Beverley blew his whistle five minutes early, fearing for player and crowd safety as the weather conditions took a turn for the (even) worse.
The defeat may leave some England players nervously waiting by the phone when the squad for the fan matches at Euro 2016 is named. But how the Dutch would love to have that problem… And with several promising debutants and younger players in the England side, there is genuine hope of a strong future – for both England and the Netherlands.
If you would like to get involved in the Fans Friendly initiative please use the contact form on this blog or email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, email, contact number, age and preferred playing position.