1 Spain and France friendlies to give better idea of progress
Roy Hodgson’s side made history in Vilnius by ensuring they won all 10 of their qualifiers to secure passage to the European Championship with a pristine record for the first time. Yet what did that actually prove? The manager had put the winning sequence into context by suggesting he may learn far more from the prestige friendlies to come than from the routine, rather uninspiring successes in the “competitive” fixtures. England are the sixth team to achieve the feat and only two of those – Spain and Germany, the winners and semi-finalists at Euro 2012 – went on to make a real impact in the tournament proper. The worry for Hodgson is that his own developing team are more likely to emulate France and the Czech Republic, at Euro ’92 and Euro 2000 respectively, by failing to emerge from their group at the finals. The games against Spain and France next month should give a better idea of the team’s progress.
2 Final qualifier was audition for best of the back-ups
This side was very much a reserve lineup, boasting a combined 140 caps before kick-off and an average age of 24.7; the involvement of Kyle Walker, Jack Butland and Danny Ings swelled the number of players used by Hodgson in the qualifying campaign to 33. Quite how many would be in contention if the walking wounded were restored to fitness remains to be seen. The regular back-line were resting. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana are favourites of the manager. The former scored emphatically after the break while the Liverpool player’s fine touch helped conjure the second goal, and Ross Barkley glided through the contest impressively enough. But if Jack Wilshere, Jordan Henderson and James Milner are fit and available, that would presumably be Hodgson’s preferred midfield trio, with Raheem Sterling to be incorporated in the front three. In many ways this did not even represent an opportunity to stake a claim for first-team involvement. If anything, this was an audition to determine who should be considered the best of the back-ups.
3 Own goal shows Kane is still out of luck
Harry Kane might be the exception, though whether he can be incorporated into a side expected to contain Wayne Rooney is in doubt. The Tottenham Hotspur forward had been industrious against Estonia but lacked clear sights of goal. Opportunities came his way far more readily on the artificial surface here, with Giedrius Arlauskis denying him three times before England had a lead. True to form Kane collected Lallana’s flick six minutes after Barkley’s opener and thumped a shot against the base of a post with the ball rebounding in off the goalkeeper’s arm as an own goal. Georgas Freidgeimas somehow blocked a tap-in after the break. The goals will come again for Kane, not least because he keeps hitting the target, but this display rather summed up his campaign. Last year he would probably have ended up with a hat-trick.
4 Shelvey deserves another chance against Spain
So how does one make a proper judgment on Jonjo Shelvey’s prowess at this level having seen him confronted by this standard of opponents? Lithuania offered so little thrust through the centre that the Swansea midfielder could afford to stroll around, picking up loose balls and distributing possession to his team-mates without ever feeling flustered. He was calm, authoritative and tidy enough, but generally left Barkley to catch the eye ahead of him. Yet, on the basis that Wilshere and Michael Carrick have proved particularly injury-prone, Shelvey might imagine he can play that quarter-back, deep-lying role Hodgson so favours when the tournament begins in France. The worry is better opponents might flood through a midfield as forward-thinking as this, so perhaps Hodgson should offer the 23-year-old another run-out against the Spanish in Alicante next month to see how he copes when better players than Lithuania’s gallop at him. As yet, Hodgson can only guess how he might fare.
5 LFF stadium was not adequate for this occasion
This tiny arena, with its one open end and three shallow stands, could not cope with this kind of game. England’s support, some bellowing regular renditions of No Surrender, had sprawled well outside the area allocated for 850 away fans with a large number having gathered in the home end behind one goal. That prompted skirmishes before the national anthems, with objects flung and fighting breaking out in pockets before riot police restored a level of order. They remained in place, effectively penning in the home support with the large bank of England fans thrust further towards the centre of the stand, and trouble flared again when Barkley’s shot deflected in. The Football Supporters’ Federation had urged England fans not to buy tickets in that end as it is where the Lithuanian “ultras” mass, but this game had not sold out even on the day before the fixture and that advice was ignored by many. The resulting confusion left a number of supporters unable to gain access to their allocated seats and standing on the steps leading into the arena for the entire first half.