Maguires blast bails out Stones as England scrape nervy win over Poland – The Guardian

World Cup 2022 qualifiers

John Stones winced and raised a hand in apology. It was a horror moment and the central defender could not hide, a lapse that presented Poland with an equaliser to shock England and set all kinds of dark thoughts in train.

He was turned back towards the edge of his penalty area by a pass from the goalkeeper, Nick Pope, that could have been played with greater accuracy but what happened next was all about Stones’s belief that he could stride out of trouble and get his team moving.

He could not. Stones was robbed by Jakub Moder and, when the midfielder got the ball back from the substitute, Arkadiusz Milik, he lifted a shot past Pope and England could feel the potential for damage to their hopes of automatic World Cup qualification.


Stones did not hide. He and England shook their heads clear and pushed again, keen to rekindle the memory of a fine first-half performance in which Harry Kane had scored from the penalty spot and Mason Mount, Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling sparkled in Gareth Southgate’s 4-3-3 formation.

It was a testament to Stones’s character, which had seen him recover from a similar error in the Nations League semi-final defeat to the Netherlands in June 2019 and a long spell out of the international set-up, that he was central to the late goal that swung the tie back in England’s favour.

Stones leapt above Grzegorz Krychowiak at the far post to head a Foden corner back down and across and there was Harry Maguire, getting his body shape right, to crash a side-on shot into the roof of the net.

It rounded off an erratic night for England in which there were aspects for Southgate to enjoy but, equally, to question. When the tide turned at the start of the second half, England looked open and anxious and, after Moder’s goal, it was Poland that looked the likelier winners for a spell.

John Stones cuts a dejected figure after his error allowed Poland to equalise with England. Photograph: Andy Rain/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

All that ends well, however. The result was everything and, if it was easy to imagine the hand-wringing should points had been dropped – particularly with England’s next competitive game being their opening European Championship finals tie against Croatia in June – it was also possible to cherish the gloss that the Stones-driven comeback applied.


In a sense, the England manager was rewarded for his positivity. He had been expected to revert to his three-man defensive system, having played with a four in the opening qualifiers against San Marino and Albania. And yet he did not. This was Gareth The Bold – a creature some fans feared was extinct.

England dominated possession at the outset and they took control with a penalty – one that confirms the impression defenders cannot afford to make any sort of contact inside the area. Sterling slowed down after an electric burst to see Michal Helik slide to block off his crossing route but then catch him with his trailing leg. Kane clipped the kick up the middle.

Mount’s passing was quick and incisive during the first-half, whether to release Ben Chilwell on the overlap from left-back or set Sterling tearing through on 28 minutes after a give-and-go with Kane. Sterling tried to usher in Foden with a square pass only for Jan Bednarek to throw himself into a block. If he had his time again, Sterling would have shot.

Sterling was a menace off the left before the interval, his standout moment coming when he tricked past three red shirts inside the area but not a fourth. He forced defenders on to the back foot, making them uncomfortable, making things happen. They dared not touch him. Nor could they live with him for pace.

Foden, too, was heavily involved from the right in the first-half, his touch and balance a delight. He headed over in the early running and it was his flick from a Mount pass that saw Kane extend Wojciech Szczesny on 31 minutes.

The Poland manager, Paulo Sousa, had started with three at the back and with Karol Swiderski, surprisingly, preferred to Milik up front. His team, who were without their injured talisman, Robert Lewandowski, offered nothing as an attacking threat before the break. But everything changed upon the restart, with Milik on for Swiderski and, shortly afterwards, Sousa swapping a centre-half, Helik, for a winger, Kamil Jozwiak, and going to 4-4-2.

Stones had suffered a crossed wire with Pope on 54 minutes, as he tried to shepherd a ball back to him under pressure from Krzysztof Piatek. The Poland striker was penalised for a foul. Pope failed to convince with the ball at his feet or when leaving his line. And the game turned sharply when Stones next received possession.


England’s wobble was pronounced and Milik lined up a knockout blow only to loop a header wide. Southgate’s team, though, who finished with a back three, were able to regain their composure. Foden and Mount continued to drive and there, at the end, was Stones to Maguire for the reprieve.

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