By Shaun Custis
ROY HODGSON had a knack of working miracles in his time in charge of underdogs like Switzerland, Fulham and West Brom.
When the odds are against him, Hodgson is at his best.
So no wonder he was happy to make France favourites against England in the opening Group D Euro 2012 clash in Donetsk next Monday.
Little has gone right for the Three Lions boss since he got the job.
Players have been dropping like flies, with Gary Cahill the latest casualty after suffering a double-fracture of his jaw when he was shoved into Joe Hart by Belgium’s Dries Mertens.
And Hodgson has not helped himself by refusing to call up the experienced Rio Ferdinand as a replacement, opting instead for Liverpool’s Martin Kelly.
But somehow the England chief is patching up a team capable of winning matches and has a 100 per cent record after two games without conceding.
Before Cahill, he lost influential players such as Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard, while he is still working to get Scott Parker up to match fitness and is nursing striker Danny Welbeck back from an ankle injury.
Every time skipper Steven Gerrard goes into a tackle he must have his heart in his mouth, praying the Liverpool midfielder will get up again.
He eventually went off with cramp and it was a relief.
Outwardly Hodgson displays a philosophical air with a “what will be, will be” attitude. And he insists there is no grand plan to “do a Chelsea” by parking the bus and hitting teams on the break, as has been the way for large parts of the games against Norway and Belgium.
He wants to see England playing good attacking football. He does not want to be a reincarnation of Greece in 2004.
Welbeck’s cool finish from Ashley Young’s delightful pass on 36 minutes proved to be decisive as the Manchester United star staked his claim for the lead striker role in his battle with Andy Carroll.
Belgium had all the possession but, even with Chelsea’s £32million arrival Eden Hazard, they posed little threat.
Guillaume Gillet did hit the woodwork for the visitors while sub Jermain Defoe struck the inside of a post for England.
Hodgson can be satisfied with England’s defensive displays — but expects more going forward.
He said: “I have not gone into this with some major principle of gathering the players round and saying ‘now lads, this is what we are going to do, we are going to be hard to beat’.
“When we work on defending, we work on our defending. When we work on our attacking, we work on our attacking.
“When we talk to the players about what we are looking for, we talk about both aspects. Whether we can beat France I don’t know. When you have gone 20 games unbeaten as they have, you have something.
“We can’t suggest we are in that position, not least because of key figures like Rooney, who can’t play in the first two games, and others have left us.
“We are moving towards a team that can not only give them a game but, if we have a bit of luck, perhaps go on and win it. I don’t think we will go into the game as favourites, not in terms of what France have done compared to what we have.”
Hodgson gave Arsenal’s exciting Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain his full debut and was delighted at his willingness to take opponents on even if, occasionally, the winger got carried away trying to do too much.
He added: “It is a good fault, isn’t it? We have been trying to encourage that. We have quick players but I don’t think we have got into some areas as much as I would have liked.
“We will work on that. The good thing is that if we could get into those areas, the players we have can cause problems.
“Our message to the players has been that they have to be brave and show some courage.
“We would rather they take it on, than turn and play the ball back because you are worried that if you try to go past the guy and lose the ball, everyone is going to criticise you.”