England Hang on to Save Beckham; Frank Spot-On but Harsh Red for the Captain Puts Big Strain on Sven's Men
Byline: IAN RIDLEY
THEY PLAYED the Kaiser Chiefs hit 'I Predict a Riot' before kick-off and there were moments when they might have been right.
A Spanish referee and an Austrian left-back combined to anger Old Trafford at the sendingoff of David Beckham but, in the end, a tense, nervy and narrow victory saved them - and England's World Cup ambitions.
Beckham went for two yellow cards in a minute and, although English fans might see two overseas villains of the piece, the captain must take his own share of responsibility for two rash moments that put qualification in jeopardy.
A bright enough beginning turned into a meandering middle and a worrying ending as England were left clinging to Frank Lampard's 25th-minute penalty against a limited, at times even dispirited, Austria side. It should, indeed, be worrying that England cannot dictate and control a game from such a position of strength.
At the final whistle, the crowd erupted in relief rather than triumph. On the pitch, England's 10 men looked too weary even to lift their arms.
It had been back to 4-4-2, with Peter Crouch partnering Michael Owen, Beckham wide on the right and Sol Campbell preferred to Rio Ferdinand. From the outset, England had a more comfortable look about them.
Still there were concerns, however, still shortcomings. Without a naturally left-footed player in the side, Austria were able to defend with ease whenever Joe Cole, wide on the left, cut inside predictably. On the right, too often Beckham drifted infield to seek more influence.
Initially, there was enough to pin back the Austrians. There was clearly a desire and determination to make amends for the defeat in Belfast last month.
England played at a higher tempo, pressing any Austrian in possession.
At least in the first half, the gangly Crouch linked up neatly, retaining possession and bringing others into the game. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard also sorted out the should-I-stay or should-I-go problem.
Gerrard stayed, Lampard went.
At first, it proved too much for an Austria side smarting from the end of their own qualification chances, which led to the departure of coach Hans Krankl. They looked a pale shadow of the side that deserved better than a 3-2 defeat in Poland last month.
They did create the first real attempt on goal, however, Markus Kiesenebner's 25-yard dipping shot forcing Paul Robinson to tip the ball over the bar none too convincingly.
It stung England into a response and Crouch sent Owen in on goal only for the Newcastle striker to be halted by a fine tackle from Paul Scharner.
An even better clearance denied England again soon after. Gerrard sent Owen clear for a shot on goal which Jurgen Macho turned aside.
Crouch or Beckham seemed certain to turn home the rebound but Rene Aufhauser intervened to scramble the ball away. No matter. …