England managers hate the term meaningless friendlies. Every match has meaning, they will argue, because they learn, and the players gain experience. And what an experience it was for them all on Thursday night.
Not since June 5, 1963, in an 8-1 win over Switzerland, have three England internationals scored their first goal for their country in the same match. It was Tony Kay, Johnny Byrne and Jimmy Melia that day, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Conor Coady and Danny Ings this. And while none of the trio that scored a debut goal in Basle made it into the triumphant World Cup squad three years later – indeed they only made 14 appearances between them – times were different then.
There are more opportunities now and Gareth Southgate is a manager with a willingness to select young players. He did just that again last night and was rewarded with some very impressive performances, not least from Jack Grealish, the man of the match. Indeed, by the time Ings scored the third with a spectacular overhead kick in the 63th minute, there was consensus agreement that this had been a profitable, worthwhile night out for Southgate and another young England team.
Danny Ings scored England’s third goal of the night with a superbly executed overhead kick in the second half
Ings was deployed through the middle when Calvert-Lewin went off and came up with the goods with a great finish
Conor Coady could hardly believe it as he was the unlikely scorer of the second with a neat half-volleyed finish
Wayne Hennessey could only watch on as the ball flew past him into the net as Coady converted Kieran Trippier’s delivery
Pope, Gomez (Mings), Coady, Keane, Trippier (James), Phillips, Winks (Ward-Prowse), Saka (Maitland-Niles), Ings, Grealish (Barnes), Calvert-Lewin (Mount)
Unused subs: Henderson, James, Rashford, Alexander-Arnold, Maguire, Pickford, Rice
Goals: Calvert-Lewin (31), Coady (53), Ings (63)
Hennessey, Roberts (Gunter), Mepham, Rodon (Cabango), Davies, Morrell (Levitt), Ampadu (Vaulks), Roberts, Williams (Smith), Matondo, Moore (N Williams)
Unused subs: Gunter, Johnson, Ward, Norrington-Davies, James, Davies, Woodburn,
Bookings: Roberts , Ampadu, Levitt
Referee: Bobby Madden
Coady had taken twice as many shots at goal in one match as he had in 156 appearances for Wolves in all competitions – and had scored with half of them, while Calvert-Lewin became the first Evertonian to score on his debut for England since Fred Pickering in 1964, and only the eighth in history. As that list also includes Dixie Dean and Tommy Lawton, it’s very reasonable company.
In an over-crowded season many had challenged the wisdom of this fixture. Not just club bosses with tired legs and vested interests. One here, for a start. What was the point of cramming a third, non-competitive, fixture into a two-week break? It might be worth letting Coady answer that one after last night. There can have been few scorers as obviously delighted as Coady after scoring England’s second. He celebrated by appearing to hug each team-mate individually. And yes, that’s still legal, in a covid secure environment.
Those deserving the biggest thanks for the set-up were Grealish and captain Kieran Trippier. Grealish for getting fouled with the same regularity he does for Aston Villa, resulting in the second-half free-kick. Trippier for delivering it so perfectly, a reminder of his peak with England at the 2018 World Cup, when there were few better dead ball experts in the game. It helped that Wales’ defence, in particular Chris Mepham, went to sleep, allowing the ball to drop for Coady on the half volley at the far post, finishing it so smartly it was possible to imagine he got into that position for Wolves all the time. Possible, but wrong.
England’s third came after 63 minutes, a corner from Kalvin Phillips met by Tyrone Mings, rising higher than anyone else in the area, and nodding it down to Ings, whose magnificent finish deserved a full house, not this echoing arena. A brilliant save from Wayne Hennessey denied him a second, after 82 minutes.
Initially, it was a match that raised many questions. Is there nobody in this England team that can carry a tune? Weren’t the Welsh supposed to be good at singing? And how hard must Nick Pope’s head be?
But leaving aside some frankly dreadful versions of the national anthems, that would usually be drowned out by fans, and the injury to Wales striker Kieffer Moore’s knee that appeared to be caused by Pope’s skull, it was a positive night for Southgate after recent wobbles.
The England manager has never been scared to pick and play the men in form and it paid off here. Calvert-Lewin and Grealish, two players who have been in excellent nick for their clubs, combined for the first. Goalkeeper Pope impressed too, given a rare opportunity to challenge Jordan Pickford for the goalkeeper’s jersey. And if England’s initial superiority was hardly a surprise – Wales’ team included Jonny Williams, who plays his football in League One for Charlton, plus a fair sprinkling of Championship talent – it was a raw England team, selected as much from necessity as merit.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin continued his rich vein of form with the opening goal of the game from close range
The young England team came together to celebrate the Everton striker’s effort as they went 1-0 up against Wales
Calvert-Lewin’s Everton team-mate Michael Keane embraced the striker after the best moment of the first half
There were five players absent due to breaches of covid protocol – from domestic parties to foreign trysts – making it all the more surprising that Southgate entrusted the captaincy to Trippier. The defender is still being investigated for suspicious betting activity around his recent departure from Tottenham, and if found guilty, faces a significant ban. Of course, ‘if’ is a powerful word in this context – even so, in a week when Southgate has been keen to emphasise the moral code around the national team, it seemed a contrary stance.
Trippier is a good player, mind, and was part of the opening goal, holding the ball up on the right before feeding it to Grealish, who had drifted into space and made full use of that. It was the simplest cross, but also the best, put sweetly in the space between two Welsh defenders at the perfect height for an enterprising striker.
Fortunately, England have one in the absence of Harry Kane – rightly rested by Southgate and, as if proving a point to Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho, not even on the bench for use in an emergency – and his headers have driven Everton to the top of the table. Here was another that might have carried a Goodison Park patent, anticipating Grealish’s delivery, getting in between his men and directing it from short range, with power, past a helpess Wayne Hennessey.
Calvert-Lewin has started the season on fire and again showed how much of a threat he can be from crosses
Jack Grealish was a constant thorn in the side of Wales and England’s primary creative spark while he was on
There was a disappointing blow for Wales as Kieffer Moore suffered an injury and was forced to come off
It made up for a moment after 13 minutes when Calvert-Lewin was put through one on one, only to be forced wide before delivering a tame finish. England went to sleep a little after that and Wales could have got a goal, with better finishing from Moore. He pounced on a poor clearing header from Bukayo Saka, given more defensive responsibility than he is saddled with at Arsenal, which fell at the feet of the striker. He snatched at it, the ball came off his shin, and bobbled wide.
With a player of Moore’s size Wales will always carry danger at set pieces, but it was defender Mepham who met a corner from Jonny Williams after 28 minutes, plucked out of the air confidently by Pope. Within two minutes, Moore was put through and it took an act of supreme bravery for Pope to come out and save at his feet. In doing so, Moore’s knee appeared to catch Pope’s head, the type of collision that once caused a life-threatening injury to Petr Cech. This time, there was no harm done.
At least not to Pope. Soon after, Moore went down, and received treatment. Soon after, he slumped to the turf again. This time it was over. Harry Maguire’s slabhead title may be under serious threat from Pope’s noggin.
This was the least experienced England side since 1976 but they grew into the game impressively. There will no doubt be many changes for the visit of Belgium on Sunday, but some of those outside the camp for misdemeanours may not be so hastily recalled. Points were made here, chances taken. Meaningless, it wasn’t.
Nick Pope made a smart save diving at the feet of Moore early in the first half as he smothered the ball well under pressure
Gareth Southgate’s side were far from dominant but had more of a cutting edge than their Welsh opponents in attack
It may have only been a friendly but this was a game that Coady will never forget as he scored for his country