Opinions split over Kane-Vardy strike partnership

England's Chris Smalling (in white) heading in the only goal in the friendly against Portugal, who played nearly two-thirds of the game a man down after Bruno Alves' red card.
England's Chris Smalling (in white) heading in the only goal in the friendly against Portugal, who played nearly two-thirds of the game a man down after Bruno Alves' red card.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

LONDON • England will depart for football's European Championship in France on the back of a three-game winning streak but with Roy Hodgson having grown irritated at criticism of his use of Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy.

The England manager on Thursday employed that pair alongside Wayne Rooney, nominally at the tip of a diamond, for the first time together in the 1-0 friendly victory over Portugal's 10 men - only for the two leading English scorers over the Premier League season to find themselves too often pinned to the periphery.

Both Kane and Vardy, who was substituted having had only nine touches of which one was from the kick-off, split to the wings with Rooney forever muscling his way upfield between them and through the middle.

Hodgson argued that the strikers, who scored 49 league goals between them last term, "had to split" playing that system though the tactic drew criticism from outside the camp, not least from the former England forwards, Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker.

Shearer took to social media to argue: "If you're going to play Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy then at least play them as centre-forwards and not wingers. Or what's the point?"

Lineker argued they should have been paired together and suggested width "should be provided by full-backs, not the two strikers".

Said Hodgson: "We played with split strikers. If you play with them both through the middle with Rooney central as well you can't defend the wide areas.

"There were some moments where you might be right and Kane and Vardy were a little too wide but their job is to split and come together at the right times. If you play with a man in behind them, you have to make sure he has space in which to run.

"I'm not prepared to accept that we didn't play well. Portugal (eighth) are ranked higher than us (11th) in the Fifa rankings, so there is no reason to be dissatisfied."

Rooney was more cautious in his assessment of the victory, secured four minutes from time by defender Chris Smalling's header.

"We were the better team but we need to play better. We know that," he said. "But it's a good sign that we didn't play well and won the game."

Kane confessed that England would need to fine-tune the formation before their first match against Russia on June 11.

"Of course we would probably want a few more chances and a few more shots on goal, but it's something we are working on," said the Tottenham Hotspur striker, who was fortunate to leave Wembley in one piece after being caught on the head by a crazy, studs-up tackle from Bruno Alves - for which the Portugal and Fenerbahce defender was sent off.

Beaten manager Fernando Santos, who was without the rested Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe, said his side did not allow England's strikers much leeway despite being a man down.

"Portugal played well defensively," he said. "England tried to attack by the sides and we were good in this position... and England didn't have many opportunities to score."

England, who had a 100 per cent record in qualifying, depart for their Euro 2016 base in Chantilly on Monday.

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2016, with the headline 'Opinions split over Kane-Vardy strike partnership'. Print Edition | Subscribe