No search party was needed in the end but England’s staff must have been tempted to deploy one when Harry Kane’s number was being held up at Wembley Stadium.
For 76 minutes, the Tottenham striker was the definition of lost. He managed only 21 touches of the ball and had zero joy against Hungary’s three-man defence. So Gareth Southgate decided he had seen enough — it was time to hook the captain.
That could be interpreted as a warning. When push comes to shove, Kane is not undroppable. No striker is. If you are not scoring goals and someone else is, then he deserves his shot over you.
Kane said after the game on Tuesday: ‘I know there’s been a lot of talk about me but at the end of the day, I’ve still scored nine goals this season.’
True. But break that down and the fact you are on the verge of double digits loses its impact. Three of those goals came for Tottenham against Mura in the Europa Conference League, with two against Pacos Ferreira in the same competition. One came against Wolves in the Carabao Cup and three for England in the September internationals.
The Premier League is where you get critics off your back. That is where the best players are judged. Kane needs to snap out of his malaise if he is to stay as his country’s undisputed first choice under Southgate. Right now the back-ups are not knocking down the door.
Tammy Abraham is at Roma, scoring intermittently. Ollie Watkins is on a single goal this season. Dominic Calvert-Lewin is still returning from injury. Marcus Rashford is closing in on his first appearance of the campaign.
But say Kane continues to struggle throughout this campaign and one of his competitors goes on a silly scoring spree, what then?
You cannot live off your reputation for ever. This is football. It is about results. Kane needs to rediscover his scoring touch if he wants to stay untouchable.
This is not to say Kane the Killer will not be back. You may recall Wayne Rooney’s dip in form after coming close to leaving Manchester United in 2010 when Pep Guardiola wanted him at Barcelona.
Rooney himself has said he could not help picturing himself at the head of that team. ‘I remember sitting down for one day and thinking, “Imagine playing in that Barcelona team — Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets”. I could have slotted in perfectly.’
Rooney ended up staying at United but scored only 11 Premier League goals in 2010-11, 16 in all competitions. He bounced back, though. In 2011-12, he scored 27 in the league, 34 in all.
Kane has gone through something very similar. Guardiola wanted him at Manchester City and he will have pictured himself getting on the end of chances created by Kevin De Bruyne and Co.
Kane’s unsatisfactory season in a Tottenham shirt is no secret. It does not help that he has now got a manager in Nuno Espirito Santo whose style of play is not the most attacking. We figured he would be fine when in the England shirt. He is the striker chasing Rooney’s competitive international goals record.
But Kane’s performance against Hungary was concerning. We could put his lack of touches down to the fact that the Hungarians were sitting deep and had three centre halves suffocating him. But it was disappointing to see him looking so uninterested.
Rumour has it he has not been the most jovial around the Spurs training ground. But he needs to stop sulking. Every striker goes through periods where the ball is not going in. You have to persevere and Kane needs to knuckle down.
He has got a nice record at Newcastle — two goals there last season and the same the season before. Spurs play there on Sunday. Even if he is not happy, Kane needs to suck it up and get back to doing what he does best.