By Brett Moore - (@mooro1998)
England 2 – 0 Malta (D. Sturridge - 29, D. Alli - 38)
Gareth Southgate lead a new look England team to victory last night with a comfortable two nil win over Malta, a performance that lived up to his apparent quest for ‘brave’ football.
Southgate had made some shock inclusions into his first senior squad prior to the game, namely Glen Johnson to whom later pulled out through injury, and so his very first starting line-up was always likely to cause scepticism.
The interim boss recalled Theo Walcott back into the starting eleven for just the third time in three years, whilst also handing starts to the likes of Ryan Bertrand and Daniel Sturridge over perhaps favoured names in Danny Rose and Marcus Rashford. Jesse Lingard was also involved in the chosen eleven, making his senior debut for the three lions.
England set-up in a familiar 4-3-3 formation with Sturridge at the helm and captain Wayne Rooney in the much contested holding midfield role. Southgate’s men seemed to be in complete control and cruising for the first 30 minutes, with patient build up that was reminiscent of a training ground routine.
Malta – a national side consisting of an airport cashier and a café owner – offered very little in attack and looked to be applying a damage limitation strategy from the get go, placing nine players behind the ball for the majority of the first half.
In the present company it was somewhat excusable that England just popped the ball around the midfield aimlessly, as it seemed highly improbable that Malta were going to press the ball and set up any form of attack.
Rooney – playing in a deeper midfield role alongside Henderson – looked to try and create, switching the ball between the two flanks to get Lingard, Walker and Walcott running at the Maltese full backs and getting the ball into the box for the omnipresent figure of Daniel Sturridge.
Aside from the odd cross and tame shot however the key moment from the opening half an hour was the injury to Ryan Bertrand in the 15th minute of the game, who pulled up short clutching his hamstring after attempting to get on the end of an over hit pass from skipper Wayne Rooney and was replaced by Tottenham’s Danny Rose, himself fresh out of the physio room.
The catalyst to England’s victory however has to be Jordan Henderson. Henderson grew into the game exceptionally, making himself available and dominating midfield in a performance reminiscent of his Liverpool predecessor Steven Gerrard. Invariably it was Henderson who provided an exquisite lofted ball into the box for Anfield team mate Daniel Sturridge to head home from 10 yards out in the 29th minute of the game.
England’s second was again a product of Henderson’s newfound drive picking the ball up from John Stones – after an impressively assured run forward by the centre half- changing the tempo and running powerfully through the backline before a scrappy attempt at defending resulted in the ball falling kindly for England’s number eight Dele Alli, who finished well at the second attempt.
England had the proverbial wind in their sails with Rooney, Walcott and debutant Lingard all forcing impeccable saves from a very impressive Andrew Hogg in the Malta goal.
Come the second half it was clear that the tie was all but won by the Englishmen and so the pace and tempo built in the first half dwindled quite significantly.
Alli and Henderson were again the clear bright sparks, always looking to make something happen when in possession of the ball. However, it was clear that the rest of the team were conserving themselves for Tuesday’s clash with Slovenia, to which is sure to be a much tougher task than last night.
The 2-0 win places England at the top of Group F claiming six points from two games going into Tuesday nights clash in Ljubljana.
England: Hart, Walker, Bertrand (Rose, 19), Henderson, Cahill, Stones, Walcott (Rashford, 68), Alli, Sturridge (Vardy, 73), Rooney, Lingard
Malta: Hogg, Muscat, Agius, Camilleri, Borg, Kristensen, Sciberras, Fenech, Muscat, Schembri (Muscast, 87), Effiong (Mifsud, 76)
Man of the match: Jordan Henderson