Bold Hodgson reaps reward as Wales sit back
LENS, FRANCE (Reuters) - If England coach Roy Hodgson's two halftime substitutions proved decisive in turning the tide in their 2-1 victory over Wales on Thursday, he still risked a charge of not having made them before the game rather than midway through.
As usual, however, the result was all and a win enabled the normally conservative Hodgson to claim justification for his strategy.
Others will question whether his loyalty to Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane, both poor for the second successive match, might have been costly in terms of both England's qualification and, after that, his own job prospects.
Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge were introduced after halftime in place of the under-performing pair with England one down and struggling after Gareth Bale's latest free kick special -- and their goals rewarded Hodgson's decisive intent.
Yet the changes each manager made 20 minutes from the end were equally indicative of the way the game was going -- and of their respective ambition.
Wales coach Chris Coleman, happy with a point after earning a late victory in the first match, removed striker Hal Robson-Kanu, whose goal had beaten Slovakia and who had done his job here in holding the ball up when given a chance to get on it.
Yet England, belatedly making an impression and looking much more likely to take the extra points, threw on another attacker in Marcus Rashford in an attempt to do so.
Although pushed out wide, the teenager was able to keep the pressure on a Wales side that defended with tenacity until it mattered most.
England now have three satisfactory halves out of four to look back on -- but the first half here was the glaring exception. Vardy and Sturridge may well be the benficiaries of that.
Wales must continue to rely on their passion, claimed by the normally bland Bale to be superior to England's, which was illustrated late on when Ashley Williams and James Chester threw themselves at the ball to block a shot by Wayne Rooney.
Unfortunately for captain Williams, it was his last touch that rendered redundant the offside flag that would normally have confirmed Vardy was well offside when he poached the equaliser.
It was another excellent decision by the tournament officials, whose performances so far have earned rare appreciation from normally critical audiences.
In a low-scoring championship, that is more important than ever.
The modest scoring rate means margins are gut-squeezingly tight, although a cumbersome system of reducing 24 teams to 16 suggests those sides going home after the group stage can have only themselves to blame.
Now Wales will need all the confidence installed during their qualifying campaign to pick themselves up and make sure of progressing to the knockout stage by beating Russia in the final group game.
(Reporting by Steve Tongue; Editing by Ian Chadband)