Several members of Roy Hodgson's England team resorted to taking sleeping pills on Tuesday evening as the disruption caused by the postponement of the World Cup qualifier against Poland took its toll on the travelling squad.
Roy Hodgson's team laboured to a 1-1 draw in the rearranged fixture, the manager conceding it had been one of the least impressive performances of his tenure to date and acknowledged a lack of zest throughout his team. While his players pointed to the sodden pitch having sapped energy from their approach, it emerged many had struggled to sleep after returning to the city centre hotel when the original game was cancelled, with their customary pre- and post-match routines effectively wrecked. A number of squad members had taken caffeine tablets earlier in the day in preparation for the original match and, when that was abandoned, they struggled to fall asleep.
That hangover appeared to drift into their performance. There were uncharacteristic mistakes made throughout, with England's passing particularly sloppy, their approach play sluggish on the heavy turf and Joe Hart culpable for Kamil Glik's headed equaliser 20 minutes from time. The result leaves England a point clear of Montenegro at the top of Group H, though they are likely to be overtaken at the top of the section next month and could travel to Podgorica in March two points adrift.
Tuesday's game had been abandoned at around 9pm due to a waterlogged pitch after an opportunity to close the roof at the national stadium was passed up earlier in the week. "When you're fired up, pumped up, you've had your massages and you're ready to go, that's not ideal, but we're professionals," said the captain, Steven Gerrard, who earned a 99th cap against the Poles. "We're playing at the top level and we had to get ourselves up for this, but I didn't think we were totally at the races. I slept fine. I won't use the delay and conditions as an excuse. The reason we didn't win was because we didn't pass it when we went in front.
"They were difficult conditions and a difficult pitch – it was slippery, wet, cutting up – so it wasn't ideal, but we can't use that as an excuse. I thought Poland dealt with the conditions and played to the conditions slightly better than us. We never passed the ball well enough, for whatever reason."
Those sentiments were echoed by Hodgson, who saw Wayne Rooney head England into a lead but admitted his team "did not play at all well" other than in the last 15 minutes when parity had been restored. "The extra day, the stay over, the sogginess of the pitch … all that didn't work in our favour," he said. "It's the same for both teams, of course, and I don't want to make out we were hard done by and our opponents weren't.
"But it's a bit easier if a game's postponed if you're on home soil. I had the impression earlier in the week that the players were looking sharp and lively. I didn't have that impression today. I don't know if that's due to the extra night, the sodden pitch or that we didn't play well on the day. There are days when you don't hit the heights. We've got to be satisfied with a point, we're unbeaten now in 11 games, we'll take some comfort from that."
Hart conceded his mistake at Ludovic Obraniak's corner had cost his team – "I came out and didn't get there, so it's my fault and that's cost us the three points," he said – even if the home side merited their point on a stodgy surface that was still saturated from the downpour the previous night. The turf cut up badly, with players from both sides left to bemoan a surface that had cost £115,000 to relay last week.
"We knew the pitch would be difficult after last night and the amount of water on the pitch," said James Milner. "It was very heavy and tough on the legs. The bounce was unpredictable, but it is the same for both teams and the quality we have in our team should be able to deal with it. The disruption on Tuesday, of course, was not what we expected. You have all your meetings; you go into the dressing room and we had all our massages; we put strapping on, boots on, tie-ups on. We are ready to go, but then we get told to wait. Having it postponed was not ideal, but you have to be professional and prepare for the game as best you can."
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