It was a night when violence erupted in the Wembley bleachers and England felt a strange form of tension run through a disjointed performance. It was impossible to get away from the gruesome scenes within the area that was home to Hungary’s fans, with the enduring image of a metropolitan police officer repeatedly beating one of them with a baton and taking quite a few hits.
Trouble had flared in the third minute and dragged on for roughly seven, Hungary’s supporters rushing toward what looked like a minimal police presence. The union was disgusting. The Met would say they had entered the stand to arrest a fanatic for a “racially aggravated public order offense following comments made to a butler.”
Hungary’s problems with the racist behavior of an element of its support are well documented; Most recently, they directed monkey taunts at some of England’s black players during the World Cup qualifying match between the nations in Budapest last month. FIFA punished them with a ban on a match at the stadium.
What happened here tainted the occasion. Did it affect England? Whatever the explanation, this was a strange demonstration of Gareth Southgate’s team. The coach had dispensed with his double ray in midfield, instead asking Phil Foden and Mason Mount to fit in a 4-3-3 formation ahead of Declan Rice. It didn’t work out and Southgate ended the night substituting Jack Grealish, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling, and Jordan Henderson 3-4-3.
John Stones annulled Roland Sallai’s penalty and, with Albania losing at home to Poland, it meant that England took a decisive step towards automatic qualification to the finals in Qatar next year. I didn’t feel like there was much to be excited about.
The tactile paper had been lit from the beginning, with all the eyes in the stands and the shocking scenes of violence within the enclosure that housed the Hungarian fans. Local authorities said they had reinforced their security presence, but this did not appear to be the case on the ground.
The luminous bibs of the order were no more than twenty and, as the fists flew wildly, they seemed to be pushed back by the narrow entrance through which they had come. There was the sight of some Hungarian fans punching the air in triumph.
It was horrible to see him from across the ground, so God knows what it was like to be around him. The evening had started with some boos to the Hungarian anthem and then more of the same from some of the visiting fans as the England players got down on their knees. A banner was unfolded at the far end of the distance showing a player kneeling with a line running through him.
The tone was malevolent and England was slow to get going, which was not as Southgate had planned when he turned the dial to attack in his midfield composition.
The coach had reasoned that he simply couldn’t skip Foden after his fiery performance in Andorra on Saturday, and perhaps he also felt empowered by how much better Hungary had been his team last month in Budapest when they won 4-0. Against less than A-list opposition, it was too tempting to see
how Foden would fare with Mount.
And yet, midway through the first half, Hungary fans could light a flare and send sickly green smoke billowing up the field in celebration as they took a crash lead.
Luke Shaw’s bunt was strong when he encountered a cross from the right, and as the ball reared up, he jumped to a kicked high punt. Shaw cleared but, in doing so, endangered Loic Nego, who had bravely thrown his head at the ball. It was an obvious shame. Shaw was reserved. Roland Sallai was converted.
He was physical, he was short-tempered, and England needed to dominate themselves. Led by Grealish, they returned to containment. He flew from his starting position to the left, always happy to put his shins on the shooting line, to challenge his markers, and he was on the right when he won the free kick that led to the tie.
Foden hit the ball, Tyrone Mings tried to shoot and missed and the ball went off Declan Rice, who didn’t seem to know much about it. John Stones stretched to score and England could have even pinched the lead in the 45th minute only for Peter Gulacsi to defeat a Raheem Sterling header.
What could England start? What was clear was that they had to pass the ball faster in the second half to clear Hungary’s back five. Southgate also wanted more pace on the flank, so he hooked Grealish after 62 minutes and sent Bukayo Saka. Grealish was not happy. Hungary regained her form and asked England if they could pose a problem to them.
For Southgate’s team, it was a fight and their best opportunity in the first half of the second period came from another set piece, this one from the corner, aimed at the Stones. His header went through the far post.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism