Stoke defeat leaves Pardew on the brink

Alan's Depart Due: Pardew heads for the exit after another defeat

Alan’s Depart Due: Pardew heads for the exit after another defeat

Halloween in the Potteries three years ago yielded one of Alan Pardew’s finest hours as Newcastle United manager. Striker Demba Ba tormented the Stoke defence that night, scoring a hat-trick to move the Toon Army up to third in the league, and with it extend the club’s unbeaten run to 13 matches, its longest top-flight sequence for more than 61 years.

The way in which Stoke were dismantled in their own intimidating manor gave the club impetus to defy expectations in the remaining two thirds of the season. Pardew led Newcastle to a fifth-placed finish, but the wave of optimism that swept Tyneside has gradually been eroded, not least by the sale of star players such as the Senegalese Ba.

A third defeat of the campaign on an autumnal evening at the Britannia, courtesy of a textbook Peter Crouch header on the quarter-hour mark, has left the club mired in the relegation zone, intensifying speculation that Pardew’s tumultuous reign has now wilted beyond repair.

“It leaves us in a position where we are in the bottom three. I have to fight and the team has to fight to turn this around,“ a defiant Pardew said after the match, as his side’s winless league start heads into October. “We’ll have some serious conversations [with owner Mike Ashley] before Saturday because he doesn’t want to lose and nor do I. I’ve never been in this situation before…it’s a bit unique…but I’m a professional manager, that’s what I do and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”

Crouch End: Peter Crouch's second goal in as many games was enough to sink Newcastle at the Britannia

Crouch End: Peter Crouch’s second goal in as many games was enough to sink Newcastle at the Britannia

Three points from a possible 18 has done little to placate the growing disquiet among dissenting voices made palpable by petitions signed and a website dedicated to the extradition. SackPardew.com has arisen out of an annus horribilis for the club’s estranged manager, with little to appease the 1.3million Facebook followers and thousands who flock each fortnight to St James’ Park. Three home victories in the calendar year – two achieved in the final minute and the other to relegated Cardiff City – paints a sorry picture for a one-club city.

The spirited fight back against Hull preceded a topsy-turvy Capital One Cup victory at Crystal Palace, but if there was any sense of brewing optimism among the circa 2,000 fans who packed out the away enclosure at Selhurst Park, it was first tempered by news of holders Manchester City awaiting in the next round and then fully expunged 24 hours later across the capital outside a Soho pub.

Among the usual dregs of mid-week drinkers was Newcastle owner Ashley. In an act of old-school journalism, Independent Sport’s Vivek Chaudhary approached the large billionaire about Pardew’s future. Leaning against a wall, he answered it with throat-cutting gestures. The chance meeting at the Golden Lion now appears aptly named, as the leader of this pride now sets his sights on the most wearied zebra in the North East. The gaze of the former West Ham and Charlton Athletic manager as he trudged off for his media duties on Monday night resembled a fighter who has fallen behind the pack.

While the shortage of British chairmen in the Premier League makes the founder of Sports Direct a welcome anomaly in principle, his appetite to become ‘one of the lads’ when it suits has in fact alienated him, and left Geordies disillusioned by the soap opera that is now attached to their object of affection. The great irony of communicating to Chaudhary that defeat to Stoke would signal the end of Pardew’s tenure on Tyneside cannot have been lost on those Northern correspondents banished from reporting at home matches on the grounds they had destabilized the club with unfounded conjecture. Stating that Pardew would be ‘finished’ if he lost to Stoke in a public house should have been kept in-house.

The default statement last Friday that Ashley’s comments were ‘just banter’ only became further pellets of ire for irked detractors whose show of passion can only be voiced in the black and white of local newspapers and not in the striped shirts they unconditionally idolize.

Sack Mobile: 20,000 banners calling for Pardew's exit were handed out against Hull

Sack Mobile: 20,000 banners calling for Pardew’s exit were handed out against Hull

Yet the need for everyone at a football club to pull in the same direction has never been so apparent. White vans and posters of farmed out Hatem Ben Arfa dressed as Che Guevara hardly form the ideal backdrop to bed in nine new faces brought to the club over the summer. Some fans have taken to forums to vent their anger at the current regime; others are now apathetic to the club’s future while Pardew and Ashley still hold positions of authority.

‘Pride, Passion and Belief’ are the three fundamental elements those who campaign for Pardew’s departure demand as a bare minimum from their team, but with the Tyne-Wear derby not until five days before Christmas, this could be a long winter for the success-starved residents of the Gallowgate End. The forthcoming international break after the side has faced Swansea City next weekend represents a chance for Ashley to act on his word by appointing a new Magpies manager worth crowing about.

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Euro Exertions Leave Premier League Elite Homesick

Home Thoughts From Abroad: Pochettino's side were booed off following Sunday's 1-0 defeat to West Brom at White Hart Lane

Home Thoughts From Abroad: Pochettino’s side were booed off following Sunday’s 1-0 defeat to West Brom at White Hart Lane

While Chelsea’s ability to throw away a golden opportunity to establish an eight-point lead over their likeliest title rivals was rendered a subplot by the haunting return of a familiar face at the Etihad, the last thing on Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal’s mind as he cast a wearied glance at the other scores from Sunday’s sideshow offerings was the growing prospect of Europa League football next season.

Members of the British media have reeled out the term Gaalacticos this past week clearly having developed a sense of the exotic from exhausting the term ‘La Décima’ last season. But it was only the Manchester United defence that gave off the impression of being something else on Sunday, as the Foxes ripped them open like plastic bin liners in a second-half feast at the King Power Stadium. The surprise home defeats to Tottenham and Everton may have helped offset the state of shock at Carrington this morning after seeing a 3-1 lead slip away against Nigel Pearson’s side, but those small crumbs of comfort may come laced with poison should van Gaal’s side miss out on a Champions League berth in the Spring.

West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace deserve credit for capitalizing on their foes foibles (while Jamie Vardy was helping himself to a discarded KFC bucket at Leicester) as Alan Irvine and Neil Warnock recorded their first league wins of the season at the most unlikeliest of junctures, but with West Ham providing encouragement in defeating a Liverpool side struggling to juggle both domestic and European competition the night before, the two sides previously holding the bottom two league places have now provided an even greater source of inspiration to those wishing to break down the so-called ‘big seven’ across the coming months.

Spurs called upon an entirely different outfield team from the side that drew 0-0 away to Partizan Belgrade on Thursday, and head coach Mauricio Pochettino outwardly lamented UEFA’s secondary competition as one that can ‘kill’ teams during his time with Southampton. Conversely, Blues boss Roberto Martinez would appear to take a different stance having named an unchanged side to the one that defeated the Baggies against Wolfsburg. The Spaniard would have known the need to rotate three days later against Palace owing to the exertions of Thursday night, but in not tinkering with a winning formula against the Germans, it revealed where his priorities lie for the coming season.

Of course, had Leon Osman converted a gilt-edged opening at 1-0, we may well be once again hailing Martinez for his tactical astuteness, but in coupling Seamus Coleman’s enforced absence due to the new rules on head injuries with the excellent form of Kevin Mirallas and Steven Naismith being overlooked, Warnock would have used all his managerial experience to identify the degree to which his opponent’s supply line had been heavily hampered by a saturated schedule.

If the media spotlight hasn’t been on whether van Gaal can drag his new-look United side back into the Champions league by the end of this campaign, it’s been on the state of Newcastle United, Arsenal’s team selection policy or on how many goals Diego Costa can ‘chew’. Yet little has been made of Everton’s uncharacteristic defensive woes, and after the distraction of a Capital One Cup trip to face Swansea, the Toffees like Spurs will travel to their local rivals next weekend desperate to halt an alarming record of 13 goals conceded in five matches.

Back problems: Everton's defence has resembled that of Martinez's former side Wigan Athletic this season.

Back problems: Everton’s defence has resembled that of Martinez’s former side Wigan Athletic this season.

The Merseysiders, like United, have relied heavily on their attacking prowess in the opening weeks of the season, but with Samuel Eto’o, Chistian Atsu and Osman all playing for the first time together, there was an obvious lack of fluidity to the host’s laboured build-up play which made the side’s erratic defending all the more galling for the Goodison Park residents on Sunday. John Stones, so dependable for his age as a centre back, struggled at full back to contain either of Jason Puncheon or Yannick Bolasie, who vindicated their selection over Wilfried Zaha by exploiting the natural demise of the home side’s lethargic defence.

Both Aston Villa and West Ham targeted the deep-lying Steven Gerrard in defeating Liverpool earlier this month, and Martinez may call upon Naismith to emulate Gabby Agbonlahor and Stewart Downing’s stifling tactics in bringing a 15-year wait for an Everton win at Anfield to an end on Saturday. In the same way teams appear to have found a way to score at Goodison – Everton have conceded 11 goals in three league games – Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers will be expected to find the answer to how best to utilize his skipper in a fixture he has always relished.

Tottenham will hope the virus that swept through the Aston Villa ranks prior to Arsenal’s comfortable 3-0 victory in the Midlands carried itself onto the Gunners coach on Saturday as retribution for the lasagne affair of 2006, but it is their own ailing season that is in most need of the impetus a Derby day victory can bring. Both Pochettino and Martinez are facing the first period of unwanted scrutiny at their respective clubs, and given the increased levels of expectancy generated in no small part by the defensive failings of rivals, this could well be a season-defining week both in North London and on Merseyside.

Welbeck the biggest worry for outclassed Arsenal

Well Beat: Danny Welbeck sees the first of several attempts miss the target in Tuesday night's 2-0 defeat at Dortmund.

Well Beat: Danny Welbeck sees the first of several attempts miss the target in Tuesday night’s 2-0 defeat at Dortmund.

Arsene Wenger will be glad to have got the hardest of Champions League group stage openers out of the way. At least he hopes.

As the Borussia Dortmund players exited the rocking Westfalenstadion having comfortably outplayed his Arsenal side, it is the only crumb of comfort he may cling to on his flight home.

Ciro Immobile and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang delivered the telling blows either side of half-time but it was a scoreline which flattered Arsenal.

It was also the Gunners’ first defeat in 11 outings on the opening week of the Champions League group stages, but the manner of this beating may have inflicted wounds far deeper than those several of Wenger’s squad currently nurse at London Colney.

Jurgen Klopp’s side looked to examine the depleted Arsenal back-line from the very first whistle. The hosts were quick to rediscover their appetite for this competition, while the north Londoners were rash, insular and hasty in possession from the off.

The visitors were fortuitous not to concede an early penalty when Henrikh Mkhitaryan was judged to have dived over the challenge of Mikel Arteta after five minutes by Portuguese referee Olegário Benquerença. The incident cost the Armenian midfielder a yellow card for simulation, but it set the tone for an opening half which saw Dortmund pepper Wojciech Szczęsny’s goal with no fewer than 15 attempts.

Immobile, the man assigned the task of replacing Robert Lewandowski following the Poland international’s summer move to Bayern Munich, found space down the left and then the unmarked Aubameyang, but he failed to divert his shot either side of Szczęsny. Moments later, Mkhitaryan blasted over after the Polish keeper could only palm the lively Aubameyang’s cross into his path.

Kieran Gibbs, recalled after missing Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Manchester City, looked to take the game to the hosts himself with a searching run and cross that narrowly evaded Danny Welbeck at the far post. It was one of few moments of respite for Arsenal in a first-half that was largely dominated by the side that finished runners-up in the final two seasons ago.

Alexis Sanchez dawdled on the ball, Sebastian Kehl snapped into the challenge, easily dispossessing the Chilean before setting off Aubameyang for another shot which rippled the side netting. It was symptomatic of Dortmund’s performance; penetrative in possession, hustlers without it.

Welbeck ploughed a lonely furrow throughout the opening period, but Arsenal always had the look of a side intent on replicating the raid which saw them return to London having ground out a 1-0 victory when the two sides met in Germany last year. The incisiveness of Aaron Ramsey that night wasn’t matched by Welbeck, as the England forward snatched at his solitary first-half chance, having been released by the Welshman. It would prove decisive.

Immobile latched onto a lofted forward pass which instantly took the Arsenal midfield out of the game. The Italian ate the green grass ahead of him and backed Laurent Koscielny into his own penalty box before quick feet gave him the required space to plant a low right-foot shot beyond the statuesque Szczęsny.

This was no happy homecoming for the German contingent in Wenger’s outclassed side and Klopp sensed the uncertainty in his English foes, emerging for the second half with the more defensive Kehl withdrawn and Matthias Ginter in his stead. With greater directness, their lead was doubled within minutes of the restart.

Kevin Großkreutz released Aubameyang who rounded the hapless Szczęsny and left Koscielny in a crumbled heap on the goal line having clattered the post in his desperate attempt to keep the ball out. Arsenal needed to gather themselves, instead the yellow wall just kept on rolling forward, squeezing the life out of their beaten opponents.

Aubameyang’s performance was the chalk to Welbeck’s cheese. The latter scuffed at a chance presented to him, while his Gabonian counterpart had the swagger of a man who knew he had the beating of the bedraggled defenders he would leave in his wake once more moments later, before seeing his shot clip the crossbar.

Mesut Ozil was withdrawn alongside Ramsey on the hour-mark following another ineffectual performance. Surely a period out of the side awaits the out of sorts Ozil, who provided as little gumption to protect Champions League fresher Hector Bellerin on the right-hand side as guile in the attacking third.

This was always likely to provide Arsenal with the stiffest of opening assignments, but they were guilty of lacking application as much as any creative spark or defensive solidity which was the main topic for debate post kick-off. A chastening night for the visitors was epitomised by Szczęsny narrowly avoiding embarrassment for a heavy touch, and Lukas Podolski’s delayed arrival off the substitutes bench after misplacing a shin pad.

Mkhitaryan might have had a hat-trick on another night, and continued to spurn the chance to compound Arsenal’s misery by wastefully lifting another shot over after a lapse from Arteta, but such profligacy could not have been afforded to Welbeck, who continued to demonstrate the type of poor finishing which has earned him many detractors by emulating Mkhitaryan’s effort. A week after leading England with such aplomb in Switzerland, the honeymoon period is now over for Welbeck, and Arsenal – so often content in the past with finishing group runners-up – have now been dealt the defeat which their performances in the opening month of the campaign has warranted. Wenger will hope his side heeds this rude awakening.

Tom Cleverley and the Two-Shot Cappuccino

Energised England Hopefuls Return to Premier League Action

In From The Cold: Cleverley is hoping to get his career back on track with Aston Villa

In From The Cold: Cleverley is hoping to get his career back on track with Aston Villa

From the moment England completed an unbeaten record in eight games across all age groups, I knew this was no ordinary international break. I’ve since been forced to use my fake Thai student card twice in as many days, seen two transsexuals in one day without visiting Bangkok and was even given an extra cappuccino in Borough Market as the lady behind me in the queue had mistakenly been given two shots of espresso. Lesson of the fortnight: Things come in pairs.

And like a leftover cappuccino, Tom Cleverley has belatedly arrived in the lap of Paul Lambert at Aston Villa just when the Midlands club appear to be showing shoots of recovery after several years in the doldrums. Cleverley will begin his own road to redemption against Liverpool this weekend, and befitting the luck of a man who was the subject of a 10,000-strong online petition against his inclusion in England manager Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad, his new teammate Fabian Delph marked joining the pantheon of Villa players to represent the Three Lions with as much passion in 20 minutes as the former Manchester United midfielder showed in his 13 full international caps.

With former midfield generals Lambert and assistant manager Roy Keane unlikely to put up with any of his crab-like credentials and Delph brimming with confidence alongside him, Cleverley’s credibility may yet avoid the coffee plunge. Such a fate would have been unavoidable had his move down the M6 not received Premier League ratification the day after the transfer deadline had passed, so obsessive has the media scrutiny been of the side Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal shall field against QPR this Sunday. None would have included Cleverley. Everyone from the Telegraph’s Chief Football writer to the bear cub caught playing around with a golf pin seems to have spent the past fortnight hypothesizing on the starting eleven for United. Why not go the whole hog and name the starting line-ups for all Championship teams and the England side to face Scotland in Summer 2022?

Without meaning to ignore the fantasy football that makes this Sunday even more Super than it has ever been before, when it would otherwise be one side that has flattered to deceive so far facing another at Old Trafford, the stand-out fixture of gameweek 4 is most certainly the very first, when United’s neighbours Manchester City travel to the Emirates to face Arsenal in what their manager Manuel Pellegrini has labelled a ‘six-pointer’. Granted, neither side have been overly convincing themselves until now, with City humbled by Stoke last time out, and the Gunners stumbling to five points from three games.

Swansea deserve credit for making their trip to face Chelsea a top-of-the-table clash, but there is only really one ticket in town. England’s Danny Welbeck is in line to wear the red and white of Arsenal for the first time, fresh from his two-goal salute to van Gaal but as significant to the game’s outcome may be the absence of Aaron Ramsey, after the Welshman’s ankle succumbed to Andorra’s artificial pitch on Tuesday night. Pellegrini’s side have not lost two consecutive league matches since October 2010, while Arsenal last lost a home league fixture 13 months ago. Throw in the annual return of former players in City sky blue bolstered by the addition of Bacary Sagna and there are more sub plots than an episode of Prison Break to herald the resumption of domestic football in one fixture.

Neil Warnock is another man returning to familiar surroundings. His second spell as Crystal Palace manager got off to a breathtaking start away to Newcastle with Wilfried Zaha rescuing a point late on in the 3-3 draw at St James’ Park, and the mad trolley-dash which ensued means Saturday’s visit of Burnley to Selhurst Park is unlikely to buck the trend of an eventful month for Palace supporters. There are debuts galore elsewhere, with Mohamed Diame doubling up as chief scout when his new side Hull City face his former employers West Ham United on Monday night.

The manner in which Delph grasped the opportunity to impress in England white will no doubt transcend to many others who are currently not even on the cusp of an international call, so expect Lee Cattermole to transform overnight into the latest midfielder to apparently resemble Andrea Pirlo. Those Cleverley online petitioners may be in need of a strong coffee every morning for the next nine months.

Match Analysis: Brave New England or Free Hit Beneficiaries?

Danny at the double: Welbeck wheels away in delight having extended England's lead.

Danny at the double: Welbeck wheels away in delight having extended England’s lead.

England managed three more shots on target against Switzerland than they mustered at home to the Norwegians on Wednesday, and with it the curse has been lifted.

Manager Roy Hodgson brought a new dimension to his reputation as a man of letters in his colourful defence of his players following the turgid 1-0 victory last week at Wembley, but there was little need if ever there was one for any such impassioned rebuke following last night’s 2-0 defeat of Switzerland in Basle.

The win will breed continuity and stability – defeat may have brought an abrupt and premature end to Hodgson’s reign. A campaign that will already be hard to sell tickets for would’ve been doubly as difficult had the FA stuck with the former Liverpool manager after an uninspiring surrender in Switzerland.

But the players gave a performance every bit as passionate as the one given by Hodgson in defence of them and the ease at which the top seeds in each group can progress to France 2016 through UEFA’s new qualifying structure means there will be very little over the best part of the next two years for us to gauge whether these players are capable of leading England to success in a major tournament.

Last night, there were some hairy moments which may well have altered the complexion of the match – Phil Jones’ defensive lapse wasn’t capitalized on by Haris Seferovic and Gary Cahill’s goal-line clearance denied Josep Drmic – but England themselves were guilty of missed opportunities as Jones guided a free header too close to Yann Sommer and Danny Welbeck’s cut-back eluded Raheem Sterling.

The new diamond formation, with Jack Wilshere at the base and Sterling sparkling at the tip, was kept throughout and there were encouraging performances in challenging circumstances for Fabian Delph and John Stones gaining their first full international caps in a competitive fixture.

Hodgson was rewarded for his attacking formation, when the option of deploying James Milner or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in a more defensive capacity may well have been afforded to him ahead of an away fixture against the side ranked ninth in the FIFA world rankings.

Instead, England played expansive football, with Welbeck having the pace and dynamism of a forward not restricted to operating between the lines of the penalty box. His surges into the channels allowed for greater interchange between himself, Sterling and Wayne Rooney, whose hard work helped mastermind his former teammate’s opening goal.

Arsene Wenger will have been encouraged by Welbeck’s brace, with the confidence of a man embarking on a new journey at club level resonating from the moment he turned Steve von Bergen on the halfway line and surged into the Swiss box after half an hour.

His selfless cutback flummoxed Sterling but he didn’t dwell on the chance spurned, and it was his persistence that earned him the slight good fortune of scoring the game’s opener via his shin.

This was far from being a polished performance but it was also far-removed from the abject turmoil those ever-so loyal England fans had to witness in Manaus, Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte as their World Cup dreams were dashed in nine insupportable June days.

There was a balance of youth and experience which may have been disturbed had Ross Barkley been fit or Milner cast as the elder statesman marshaling the midfield – Wilshere was played in an unfamiliar quarter-back role, with the exuberant Delph at 24 clearly keen to make up for lost time with a pair of early rash challenges which earned the Villa man a caution.

The understanding between Sterling and Jordan Henderson forged at club level with Liverpool showed the rare signs of developing on the international stage, which bodes well for Daniel Sturridge when he returns to the side against journeymen from Lithuania, Estonia and San Marino in the coming months.

Throwing Stones and Jones, whose departure 15 minutes from the end with a slight hamstring scare was the one blot in Hodgson’s evening of note-taking, into games against the minnows of European football would’ve taught us very little about their potential to handle players of international substance, so this clean sheet was particularly pleasing for England.

While it was Leighton Baines who brilliantly shackled Switzerland’s most potent threat Xherdan Shaqiri, this was most certainly a team effort that overcame the toughest assignment Group E will possess.

Match Analysis: Brave New England or Beneficiaries of Free Hit?

Danny at the double: Welbeck wheels away in delight having extended England's lead.

Danny at the double: Welbeck wheels away in delight having extended England’s lead.

England managed three more shots on target against Switzerland than they mustered at home to the Norwegians on Wednesday, and with it the curse has been lifted.

Manager Roy Hodgson brought a new dimension to his reputation as a man of letters in his colourful defence of his players following the turgid 1-0 victory last week at Wembley, but there was little need if ever there was one for any such impassioned rebuke following last night’s 2-0 defeat of Switzerland in Basle.

The win will breed continuity and stability – defeat may have brought an abrupt and premature end to Hodgson’s reign. A campaign that will already be hard to sell tickets for would’ve been doubly as difficult had the FA stuck with the former Liverpool manager after an uninspiring surrender in Switzerland.

But the players gave a performance every bit as passionate as the one given by Hodgson in defence of them and the ease at which the top seeds in each group can progress to France 2016 through UEFA’s new qualifying structure means there will be very little over the best part of the next two years for us to gauge whether these players are capable of leading England to success in a major tournament.

Last night, there were some hairy moments which may well have altered the complexion of the match – Phil Jones’ defensive lapse wasn’t capitalized on by Haris Seferovic and Gary Cahill’s goal-line clearance denied Josep Drmic – but England themselves were guilty of missed opportunities as Jones guided a free header too close to Yann Sommer and Danny Welbeck’s cut-back eluded Raheem Sterling.

The new diamond formation, with Jack Wilshere at the base and Sterling sparkling at the tip, was kept throughout and there were encouraging performances in challenging circumstances for Fabian Delph and John Stones gaining their first full international caps in a competitive fixture.

Hodgson was rewarded for his attacking formation, when the option of deploying James Milner or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in more defensive capacity may well have been afforded to him ahead of an away fixture against the side ranked ninth in the FIFA world rankings.

Instead, England played expansive football, with Welbeck having the pace and dynamism of a forward not restricted to operating between the lines of the penalty box. His surges into the channels allowed for greater interchange between himself, Sterling and Wayne Rooney, whose hard work helped mastermind his former teammate’s opening goal.

Arsene Wenger will have been encouraged by Welbeck’s brace, with the confidence of a man embarking on a new journey at club level resonating from the moment he turned Steve von Bergen on the halfway line and surged into the Swiss box after half an hour.

His selfless cutback flummoxed Sterling but he didn’t dwell on the chance spurned, and it was his persistence that earned him the slight good fortune of scoring the game’s opener via his shin.

This was far from being a polished performance but it was also far-removed from the abject turmoil those ever-so loyal England fans had to witness in Manaus, Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte as their World Cup dreams were dashed in nine insupportable June days.

There was a balance of youth of experience which may have been disturbed had Ross Barkley been fit or Milner cast as the elder statesman marshaling the midfield – Wilshere was played in an unfamiliar quarter-back role, with the exuberant Delph at 24 clearly keen to make up for lost time with a pair of early rash challenges which earned the Villa man a caution.

The understanding between Sterling and Jordan Henderson forged at club level with Liverpool showed the rare signs of developing on the international stage, which bodes well for Daniel Sturridge when he returns to the side against journeymen from Lithuania, Estonia and San Marino in the coming months.

Throwing Stones and Jones, whose departure with a slight hamstring scare with 15 minutes remaining was the one blot in Hodgson’s evening of note-taking, into games against the minnows of European football would’ve taught us very little about their potential to handle players of international substance.

While it was Leighton Baines who brilliantly shackled Switzerland’s most potent threat Xherdan Shaqiri, this was most certainly a team effort that overcame the toughest assignment Group E will possess.

Match Analysis: Brave New England or Free Hit?

Danny at the double: Welbeck wheels away in delight having extended England's lead.

Danny at the double: Welbeck wheels away in delight having extended England’s lead.

England managed three more shots on target against Switzerland than they mustered at home to the Norwegians on Wednesday, and with it the curse has been lifted.

Manager Roy Hodgson brought a new dimension to his reputation as a man of letters in his colourful defence of his players following the turgid 1-0 victory last week at Wembley, but there was little need if ever there was one for any such impassioned rebuke following last night’s 2-0 defeat of Switzerland in Basle.

The win will breed continuity and stability – defeat may have brought an abrupt and premature end to Hodgson’s reign. A campaign that will already be hard to sell tickets for would’ve been doubly as difficult had the FA stuck with the former Liverpool manager after an uninspiring surrender in Switzerland.

But the players gave a performance every bit as passionate as the one given by Hodgson in defence of them and the ease at which the top seeds in each group can progress to France 2016 through UEFA’s new qualifying structure means there will be very little over the best part of the next two years for us to gauge whether these players are capable of leading England to success in a major tournament.

Last night, there were some hairy moments which may well have altered the complexion of the match – Phil Jones’ defensive lapse wasn’t capitalized on by Haris Seferovic and Gary Cahill’s goal-line clearance denied Josep Drmic – but England themselves were guilty of missed opportunities as Jones guided a free header too close to Yann Sommer and Danny Welbeck’s cut-back eluded Raheem Sterling.

The new diamond formation, with Jack Wilshere at the base and Sterling sparkling at the tip, was kept throughout and there were encouraging performances in challenging circumstances for Fabian Delph and John Stones gaining their first full international caps in a competitive fixture.

Hodgson was rewarded for his attacking formation, when the option of deploying James Milner or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in more defensive capacity may well have been afforded to him ahead of an away fixture against the side ranked ninth in the FIFA world rankings.

Instead, England played expansive football, with Welbeck having the pace and dynamism of a forward not restricted to operating between the lines of the penalty box. His surges into the channels allowed for greater interchange between himself, Sterling and Wayne Rooney, whose hard work helped mastermind his former teammate’s opening goal.

Arsene Wenger will have been encouraged by Welbeck’s brace, with the confidence of a man embarking on a new journey at club level resonating from the moment he turned Steve von Bergen on the halfway line and surged into the Swiss box after half an hour.

His selfless cutback flummoxed Sterling but he didn’t dwell on the chance spurned, and it was his persistence that earned him the slight good fortune of scoring the game’s opener via his shin.

This was far from being a polished performance but it was also far-removed from the abject turmoil those ever-so loyal England fans had to witness in Manaus, Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte as their World Cup dreams were dashed in nine insupportable June days.

There was a balance of youth of experience which may have been disturbed had Ross Barkley been fit or Milner cast as the elder statesman marshaling the midfield – Wilshere was played in an unfamiliar quarter-back role, with the exuberant Delph at 24 clearly keen to make up for lost time with a pair of early rash challenges which earned the Villa man a caution.

The understanding between Sterling and Jordan Henderson forged at club level with Liverpool showed the rare signs of developing on the international stage, which bodes well for Daniel Sturridge when he returns to the side against journeymen from Lithuania, Estonia and San Marino in the coming months.

Throwing Stones and Jones, whose departure with a slight hamstring scare with 15 minutes remaining was the one blot in Hodgson’s evening of note-taking, into games against the minnows of European football would’ve taught us very little about their potential to handle players of international substance.

While it was Leighton Baines who brilliantly shackled Switzerland’s most potent threat Xherdan Shaqiri, this was most certainly a team effort that overcame the toughest assignment Group E will possess.