In the first of Gareth Southgate’s four games as interim England Coach, England beat Malta 2-0 to consolidate on his predecessor’s win in Slovakia, thus giving the three lions 6 points at the start of their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign. England virtually won the game in the first half.
Malta did not offer anything offensively and just before the half hour mark England took the lead. After some neat build up Henderson’s cross was met by Daniel Sturridge and his header beat Hogg. Two minutes later Jesse Lingard who was making his debut for England should have doubled England’s lead. He met Sturridge’s cross from the right with a header but it went wide.
In the 38th minute, Henderson burst into the Maltese area and found Alli with a pass. Hogg saved Alli’s shot but Alli converted the rebound to double England’s lead. England led 2-0 at the break.
In the second half, England’s tempo dropped. Hogg tipped Rooney’s free kick round the post in the 52nd minute.
Although Malta made changes it did not make a difference as they only managed one shot on target in the whole game. Marcus Rashford who replaced Sturridge laid a chance on a plate for his club teammate Lingard who managed to miss from close range when it seems easier to tap the ball in.
There was never any doubt that England were going to win this game. The only question was by how many. Pundits and fans that predicted that England would knock at least five past this Maltese side were left disappointed and some fans were even booing at the end. Maybe they felt they had been shortchanged.
As mentioned several times in the past, qualifying for tournaments has never been a problem for England. It is getting over the mental and psychological barriers when they get to major tournaments that are the issue. In the past Southgate said he did not want the England job just yet, however he has three more games now to convince the hierarchy to put their faith in him to steer England to Russia in 2018. The game in Slovakia on Tuesday could provide a stern test for him as well as the qualifier against Scotland at Wembley and the friendly against former World Champions Spain.
The likes of Rashford and Lingard have done themselves no harm and have put a case forward that they could become regulars in this England team. Rashford of course we knew about but Lingard’s excellent movement on and off the ball has given England a good option should they require it the future. Although Rooney continues to divide opinion he was never going to have a hard game here. Whether he can continue with England until 2018 remains to be seen though.
Southgate said: ” At times we played some nice stuff in both halves and I think subconsciously there was a feeling in the second half that we had won the game. Jesse Lingard came in and was outstanding.”