The atmosphere in Poland's National Stadium was inevitably subdued after the unscripted low comedy of the previous evening, with the ranks of English supporters sadly and noticeably depleted, and subdued was unfortunately the only word to describe England's new-look attack.
There may have been reasons for that – the pitch was clearly a shocker and passing along the floor was difficult – yet conditions were the same for both sides and Poland neither gave the ball away as often nor looked as sluggish going forward. The result is all that matters for England in the context of the qualifying group, not that another draw is anything to write home about, though in the context of the team's development there is plenty for Roy Hodgson to think about, beginning with whether Tom Cleverley is really good enough to deliver at this level.
The Manchester United midfielder was by no means the only offender in terms of giving up possession and surrendering promising positions, but unlike the ever-industrious James Milner or the dependable Wayne Rooney, he did not ameliorate a poor game by producing anything helpful. Poland created a number of opportunities and did not take them, otherwise England would never have held a slender lead for so long, and better opponents would certainly have made them pay for their mistakes.
There was little to warrant optimism in either Hodgson's new attacking system or the promise he saw in England's pace, passing and movement after the victory over San Marino, though perhaps it would be wise to wait for a more normal set of circumstances before making a final judgment. Playing against a packed defence one week and on a pudding of a pitch the next will not bring the best out of any attacking formation, and one could only feel sorry for the isolated Jermain Defoe as he attempted to repay Hodgson's confidence.
England have all too rarely been in a position to drop a striker less than a week after he scored twice for his country, though the bad news for Danny Welbeck is that goals against San Marino are probably rightly viewed as belonging to a devalued international currency. Defoe was the immediate beneficiary, his form and strike rate for Spurs this season nudging him ahead of the rest of England attackers in a literal sense, since he was deployed as a lone front man just ahead of the advanced midfield trio of Milner, Rooney and Cleverley.
That seemed a reasonable use of the resources available to Hodgson, even if admirers of Adam Johnson and Leighton Baines might object that the side lacked a genuine left-sided midfielder ahead of Ashley Cole. Rooney was in a familiar role in the centre behind the leading striker, a position similar to the one he has just started to adopt for Manchester United, though the key to the success of the system would depend on how well Milner and Cleverley worked the flanks, not only going forward but preventing the Poland full-backs from pushing up on the England defence.
With Cleverley in particular frequently drifting infield – he popped up in the middle at one point only to play a pass to the wing straight into touch – England seemed to be expecting Cole and Glen Johnson to provide most of their width, a tactic that invited Poland to run into the gaps behind them in the early stages. Cleverley and Cole managed to get caught too high up the pitch as early as the 11th minute, leaving space for Kamil Grosicki to go rampaging down the right touchline. Surprisingly the player who tracked back to stop him, with a timely tackle close to his own corner flag, was Rooney.
In his attacking capacity, Rooney could not get close enough to Defoe to form any sort of effective link. It was surely never Hodgson's intention to have Rooney on half-way playing hopeful balls forward for Defoe to chase on his own, as happened on one occasion midway through the first half. Rooney then became the next England player to give the ball away in his own half, though in fairness passing the ball on the ground was clearly a risky exercise. With a constant danger of under-hitting passes players were over-hitting them instead, and it was perhaps no coincidence that England's opening goal arrived from a ball flighted through the air. Rooney did not meet Gerrard's corner with a particularly convincing header but the cross itself was accurate enough to do most of the work, finding the new vice-captain in space in front of goal.
Perhaps England should have taken the hint at that point and thrown on Andy Carroll, with the intention of playing the rest of their balls forward into the air. They continued to live dangerously well into the second half, defending too deep through their inability to hold up the ball at the other end of the pitch. When Defoe finally received a decent chance, after he had won a free-kick for handball, he read Gerrard's intentions correctly but could not keep his far-post effort on target. With Welbeck replacing him a minute later, that was the only chance he got.
Typically, Welbeck got his first opportunity within a minute from Milner's interception and inspired pass, but neither he nor Rooney was sharp enough to take advantage and within moments Poland were level. Nobody knows whether Defoe would have done any better and made the game safe, whereas everyone knew a Polish goal had been coming. England began to attack with more conviction in the closing minutes, though that could simply have been because Poland were sending players forward in search of an equaliser. While it was a fair result and a hard-won point in the end, conviction going forward was what England conspicuously lacked for most of the game. Ditto pace, passing and movement.