1 This was not a cautious England selection
There had been much gnashing in frustration prior to kick-off at the hosts’ selection, confirmation that Harry Kane would start on the bench while more familiar faces tore into the team ranked 94 in the world prompting a little too much dismay for comfort across social media and in the stands. What was the sense in playing three midfielders against Lithuania? Was this not an opportunity to experiment in terms of tactics and pattern? Yet Roy Hodgson was wary of “a good challenge” against defensive opponents and braced for a competitive match that had first to be won, and the key to their approach was more their intensity and the speed with which they used the ball. While Michael Carrick sat in front of the back four, Jordan Henderson and Fabian Delph were offered energy to supplement the attack with this a similar shape to that adopted for the second half against Slovenia last November. “All the pressure’s on us,” said the England manager prior to kick-off. “I can only hope we keep our shape and, if we’re lucky, we’ll get early goals.”
2) Rooney’s record is tantalisingly close
The identity of the man who supplied that early breakthrough was predictable enough. Wayne Rooney had already struck the post by the time he nodded into an open goal after Giedrius Arlauskis had parried Danny Welbeck’s shot, and he would cushion a header on to the angle of post and bar before 19 minutes were up. He could have equalled Sir Bobby Charlton’s record 49-goal tally for his country in that frenzied opening when England were at their most spritely. That record will be his soon enough, his importance to this setup still clear despite the sudden glut of forward options from which Hodgson benefits. It was his cross that Raheem Sterling tapped in for the third, Rooney’s approach play as intelligent as ever albeit against sub-standard opponents. This qualifying campaign feels like a formality, but Rooney will consider it a prolonged opportunity to fill his boots.
3) Welbeck’s place was merited
It was the captain’s partnership with Welbeck that wounded Lithuania. The pair have been prolific for their country this season, their link-up play compensating for the continued absence of Daniel Sturridge through injury. The Arsenal forward was excellent again here, even if all the clamour for Kane’s inclusion had most likely been in the assumption it would be at his expense. It was his shot that was parried by Arlauskis, his cross which Rooney nodded on to the woodwork, and his diving header that Tadas Kijanskas deflected in to double the home side’s lead. He was aggressive and clever with his running, unnerving Lithuania’s centre-halves and manoeuvring their back-line into uncomfortable areas. His reward was a sixth competitive goal in five qualifying matches this season, a tally no one can currently match across Europe.
4) Phil Jones still has much to learn at this level
It seems insanely harsh to judge Jones as an international centre-half when he is still attempting to nail down that position at Manchester United. While he has played regularly at club level this term, it really took an injury to Marcos Rojo and Jonny Evans’ suspension to thrust the former Blackburn player in firmly alongside Chris Smalling for those two impressive recent wins. He understandably appeared rather nervous here, even with the England back-line relatively underworked. There was a crunched foul on Fiodor Cernych and a blatant push on Deivydas Matulevicius, even if his presence did subsequently panic the striker into an air-shot in front of goal. Chris Smalling will most likely be granted an appearance in Turin in a game Hodgson will consider more daunting than this occasion. That says much. But, even if the bench awaits again in Italy, Jones should still be stronger for this outing
5) Harry Kane’s scriptwriter is inspired
So what, then, of Kane? The Tottenham Hotspur debutant was granted the last quarter of the contest, just as the first Mexican waves were whipping round the stadium, but even with the contest long since settled his impact was remarkable. His first touch was a neat lay-off for Ross Barkley. His second was to nod a first senior international goal 78 seconds into life at this level. “Time is on his side,” Hodgson had said prior to kick-off, though the Spurs striker’s career is being played out at breakneck speed at present. The Azzurri, even when not at full strength given they play a qualifier against Bulgaria on Saturday, will be a completely different proposition to this hapless Lithuanian lineup but, even so, this was a cameo to justify all the hype.