England 2 Poland 1: Watch Harry Maguire spare John Stones' blushes with late goal after Man City ace's gaffe at Wembley

TWO assists for John Stones, then – one for Poland’s equaliser and one for England’s winner.

Gareth Southgate had regarded Stones’ resurgence at Manchester City as a game-changer, allowing him to rip up his unpopular back five and pair him with Man United captain Harry Maguire in a flat back four.

So what to make of this? Stones and Maguire looking shaky in defence as Poland gave Southgate’s side a serious second-half scare, yet the two Yorkshiremen combining for the late winner.

At least this victory puts England firmly in control of their World Cup qualifying group.

But they are surely going to need to tighten up at the back to have any chance of success at this summer’s Euros.

Stones has been a mainstay of a quadruple-chasing team and returned to the England side last week after a gap of almost 18 months.

But despite all of his fine attributes, Stones can be a proper old scatterbrain.

And one such moment allowed Poland’s Brighton midfielder Jakub Moder to equalise Harry Kane’s first-half penalty.

England had bossed the first half but as soon as the Poles showed some ambition, they were seriously rattled.

And you can bet that Stones’ blunder will frighten Southgate back into his comfort blanket of three central defenders and wing-backs. You could hardly blame him.


The last time Stones played for England against a decent team, the Dutch in the 2019 Nations League semi-final, he made two howlers which condemned Southgate’ side to defeat.

And the City man does not look quite so assured without the brilliant Ruben Dias alongside him.

Southgate has had some good fortune with opposition absentees in his time – his two 2018 World Cup knock-out wins came when Colombia’s main man James Rodriguez was injured and against Sweden when the mighty Zlatan Ibrahimovic was in temporary retirement.

Eden Hazard missed Belgium’s Nations League defeat here in the autumn and here came Poland without their one world-class player, Robert Lewandowski, and with another attacking threat, Arkadiusz Milik surprisingly left on the bench until half-time.

Southgate made only one change from Sunday’s 2-0 win in Albania, Ben Chilwell replacing Luke Shaw at left-back – and he stuck with a flat back four.

Poland’s new boss, the former Leicester and Swansea manager Paulo Sousa, has been talking about possession-based football but there was little sign of that as the visitors sat deep early on.

England probed around patiently, Mount and Foden passing and moving and flitting and floating, Sterling dribbling and driving.

And it was an alert piece of play from Foden which set England on their way to a 19th-minute opener.

Foden nicked possession and released Sterling who surged forward, ran out of space, decelerated and ‘invited contact’ from Barnsley defender Michal Helik.

Cunning? Streetwise? Cheating? Take your pick but ref Bjorn Kuipers pointed to the spot, there was no VAR to overturn it and, even when there is a VAR at the Euros, he’d have probably upheld it in the same way you’ll get done for doing 45mph on an empty stretch of the M1.

Kane leathered the spot-kick straight down the middle and he is now England’s leading penalty-scorer with 11, surpassing Frank Lampard.

The Spurs man is lethal from the spot. Perhaps he ought to move to Manchester United. He’d score 50 goals a season there, 32 from penalties.

Every time Sterling darted at them, the Polish defence seemed to panic – though he might have squared for Foden rather than shooting himself on his next foray.

The next time, Sterling went on a Ricky Villa run, zig-zagging through the Poles like a slalom skier, only to be denied by a last-ditch tackle.

Then a sweet inter-change – a Mount pass, a Foden lay-off and a thumping Kane shot pushed away by keeper Wojciech Szczesny – a man whose name we had learned how to spell before he left Arsenal, but had since forgotten.

Declan Rice was bossing midfield again, alongside him Kalvin Phillips would have been boosting his pass completion rate by playing a lot of safe, obvious passes.

Sousa sent on Milik at half-time and Poland looked livelier – Stones and Nick Pope getting muddled and almost allowing in the newcomer.

That was a warning for Poland’s 57th-minute leveller – Pope passed out, Stones absent-mindedly played a loose ball, which Moder pounced upon, shoulder-barged the Manchester City man out of the way, exchanged passes with Milik and hammered into the far corner.

It was the first goal Pope had conceded in his seventh England appearance – not that he’d had too many saves to make before this.

The Poles had scrapped their back five and were looking full of it now – Milik off-target with a free header which he should have buried.

England’s defence were often being pulled apart at will but they still possessed a threat going forward.

And when they won an 85th-minute corner, Foden delivered from the left, Stones cut back header from beyond the far post and Maguire thumped home a winner.

Relief for Southgate, but more questions than answers.

Source: Read Full Article