The penultimate International break of the year has very nearly reached an end. Teams around the globe are clinching qualification for the 2018 finals but excitement levels around England are at an all-time low. As we all sit and wait for the clock to tick round to next weekend, here’s a look at the best and worst our home nations offered this weekend. It really helps that some of them have played twice. Also, Republic of Ireland are a home nation, for the purposes of content.
Jack Butland – The battle for England’s goalkeeper jersey is reaching fever pitch, with Joe Hart looking more vulnerable than ever to lose his spot to 24-year-old Jack. Ironically Hart had a decent game on Thursday with a late double save preserving England’s clean sheet, but sadly Hart is battling the tide. Butland is the people’s champion, the cool new option whilst Hart has had one chance too many. It’ll be very interesting to see who starts the first game next summer.
Kyle Walker – I was struggling to pick out defenders from this round of fixtures, so Kyle makes the cut for his assist for Harry Kane in Thursday’s dire game. He intercepted Oblak’s throw and then rolled back the clock about 5 months to when he played for Spurs by serving up a tap-in for his former teammate.
Chris Brunt – Poor Brunty. His wand of a left foot was put to the test by his own goalkeeper on Sunday, Michael McGovern getting the assist as Brunt ended up powering one into his own goal. Fortunately, it barely matters and Northern Ireland are in the playoffs. More on this later.
Ashley Williams – The contrast between the Williams who plays for Everton and the one who plays for Wales is incredible. In a Wales shirt, Williams puffs his chest out and gets in the way of everything. Everton fans must sit scratching their heads at who it is who turns out for them on a weekly basis, but they cannot be the same player. Can they?
Tom Lawrence – For Ben Woodburn last month, see Tom Lawrence this month. What a way to open your International goals account, as Wales just about negotiated the tricky trip to Georgia. The Derby man scored a fine individual goal and that sets up the clash with the Republic of Ireland very nicely indeed.
Oliver Norwood – Norwood claimed this week that Northern Ireland don’t get the credit they deserve. Does he never watch football coverage? Northern Ireland have had all the plaudits going over the past few years for their achievements, and rightly so. I’m not sure what else Olly wants but I file this outburst alongside Yaya Toure’s lack of birthday cake a few years ago. Get over it. Northern Ireland have done brilliantly and I really hope they make the finals.
Jordan Henderson – Henderson’s popularity seems to decrease with every game he plays. A bit like Joe Hart. The Liverpool man has been dismissed as not being good enough to play in the centre of England’s midfield, but the truth is there is nobody else. Harry Winks made his debut on Sunday but he is very raw and has barely played any Premier League club football, so it’s hard to see him deposing Henderson before next summer. Still, at least Gareth is trying new things.
Harry Arter – I’m fairly sure Arter could start an argument in an empty room. In this case, the empty room was the latter stage of Republic of Ireland vs Moldova, where the game was done and dusted at 2-0. Arter managed to find himself on the end of an elbow and a headbutt though, which is remarkable really.
Harry Kane – Kane is everywhere at the minute, but he’s scored both of England’s goal in 1-0 wins, so I can’t leave him out. Well done Harry, you’re our only hope.
Daryl Murphy – Murphy answered Martin O’Neill’s call on Friday night with a pair of goals, including a quite brilliant header. Murphy has been on tremendous form in recent weeks and O’Neill will be hoping he can reproduce again on Monday against Wales. Shane Long, however, spent the night missing open goals.
Leigh Griffiths – Griffiths makes the cut not only got his goal on Sunday against Slovenia but also for his part in Scotland’s goal on Thursday against Slovakia. He took his goal extremely well on Sunday and I really feel for Scotland falling at the final hurdle again.
Gordon Strachan – I’m going to stick up for Gordon. His side were basically out of contention in June but they have missed out on a playoff place on goal difference. I hope Strachan plays on as there’s no doubt in my mind the players are playing for him, plus it seems kind of inevitable that Moyes will be the next man at the helm and nobody wants that. If only they hadn’t drawn at home to Lithuania…
Sorry, it’s a bit desperate this week, it’s been a really long weekend of terrible football. I’ll be back next week when the real football gets underway. See you there.