Roy Hodgson remains unbeaten as England manager with his team still clear, for now, at the top of their qualifying group, though the haggard expression he wore through much of this spluttering performance betrayed a grimmer reality. Another opportunity to impose authority over the section has been passed up, the overriding emotion at the end here one of relief that at least a point had been preserved. If the pitch was soggy, the display was sloppy.
This all felt depressingly unsatisfactory, the tone set early as simple passes flew into touch and maintained through a period when the visitors held an unlikely lead. Even that was a scruffy goal, plucked from a set-piece and looped in from Wayne Rooney's shoulder, with England's slickest exchanges reserved for the latter stages when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain injected zip to their approach as they urgently sought to restore their advantage. The manager conceded this had been one of his team's less impressive performances. In that context, it should be considered encouraging that a point was squeezed from the fixture at all.
The frustration was that, with experienced players on the pitch and the hosts' own confidence notoriously brittle, the lead could not be retained. Half-chances had been spurned on the break by Jermain Defoe and Rooney, the latter skying over the bar after Danny Welbeck sprinted clear and round the goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton to pull a pass back from the byline.
At that stage the Poles appeared to be wilting, their conviction draining quicker than the sodden pitch, only for England to doze off. Ludovic Obraniak's corner moments later prompted panic, Joe Hart missing when punching down the wrong line, and Joleon Lescott shrinking as Kamil Glik headed gleefully into the empty net. Polish football is prone to hard luck stories. This was deserved reward.
It was the lack of tempo and poise to England's display that felt most dispiriting. Hodgson could point to the pitch and the postponement as reason for the stodgy passages of play – although it did not appear to affect the Poles quite as obviously – with vague suggestions that it is "a bit easier to recover for a rearranged game if you're on home soil". That soil was still drenched, reminders of the fiasco the night before omnipresent. England appeared slack and devoid of focus at times, as the manager freely admitted. It was as if body clocks had been thrown by the shifting of the fixture back 20 hours after the waterlogging the previous day, with the players struggling to shrug themselves awake.
Hodgson conceded there had been more pizzazz the previous day as players prepared. "I had the impression earlier in the week that the players were looking sharp and lively," he said. "I didn't have that impression today." He could curse the heavens for that much. The colossal tarpaulin roof had actually been opened and closed regularly throughout the day, as if taunting those fans who could not attend the rescheduled game, as the locals sought to dry the surface so there was an irony this game kicked off with autumnal sunshine pouring through the concourse under the canopy. Even so, the turf was heavy after the previous day's deluge, the ball skidding on in places and slowing up in others. Hodgson described it as "dead". It certainly appeared to sap energy from much of the approach play his team summoned.
Poland, justifiably, could argue that their own efforts to counter at pace were too often stifled at source, though they carried the more potent threat. Lukasz Piszczek and Kamil Grosicki tore into Ashley Cole, the left-back exposed with Tom Cleverley tucked infield, but the pitch was too stodgy for the Poles to generate proper momentum. Cole, making his 99th appearance, benefited from little support even once Oxlade-Chamberlain had entered the fray. Sometimes there is complacency when it comes to the Chelsea defender, an assumption he can deal with all-comers. Piszczek was a tricky opponent throughout, with Hart suffocating a loose ball at his feet early on.
Grosicki scuffed wide with England flustered. Michael Carrick's radar was scrambled and Rooney a mess of misplaced deliveries. Even Hart's composure was suspect, his fluffed clearance surrendering possession with Robert Lewandowski fizzing a shot across goal and wide.
Then, out of the carelessness, Steven Gerrard barged forward to win a corner and, with the Poles dawdling and disorganised, Rooney converted the captain's delivery. His 32nd goal at this level felt unexpected, his departure for Oxlade-Chamberlain less so. "I know I can play better than that," conceded the Manchester United forward. "But the pitch took a lot out of your legs."
Some of the forward's better work had been in retreat, seeking to check Polish attacks, but with Rooney, Carrick, Gerrard and a relatively reassuring backline on the pitch, the visitors had reason to hope they could cling on. That sense was only heightened when the home side's eager opening to the second half was weathered and anxiety spread around the arena. But those England fans who had been able to make the rearranged game – barely half the original 2,500 travelling supporters appeared to be in attendance – were to be denied their win.
Glik's equaliser redressed the balance and means that, by the time England travel to Montenegro in March, they could be two points behind their hosts in Podgorica. Improvement is required. "We know we'll have to improve to qualify," added Rooney. "But at least we got a point." There was relief to be had in that.