In their 1000th international, a rapacious England confirmed their place at Euro 2020 with a second thumping of Eastern European opposition in as many matches.
On a nostalgic night, Southgate looked to the future – he fielded the Youngest Three Lions XI since 1959 and was rewarded as they put seven past a hapless Montenegro
So, what have the past few days taught us? Not much other than England are very good, Montenegro are very bad, and Raheem S terling needs to cut his fingernails.
The build-up to England’s record-breaking match was dominated by headlines of a bust-up between club rivals and what it might mean for squad harmony, but from the get-go, Southgate’s men looked as if they knew a merciless battering of a gaggle of defenceless minnows was the best way to free themselves from the shackles of bad publicity. Making his first England start since March 2018, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was the grateful recipient of a gorgeously-flighted, left-to-right ball from Ben Chilwell. He brought the ball down before unleashing a rasping shot into the far corner. A half chance, buried.
Eight minutes later and England added a second with Chilwell once again the provider. He earned the free-kick. He swung it in. Harry Kane nodded home. Euro 2020 qualification signed, sealed and delivered.After this markedly purposeful start, England began to move the ball more exploratorily. But there was no frivolity in their play, nor was there any of the ponderousness we saw in the 2-1 defeat to Czech Republic. Everything they did they did with conviction.
Marcus Rashford in particular was a forthright presence on the right-hand side, hurtling towards goal every time he received the ball.
24 minutes in, his direct running forced a corner. Peeling off from the now-familiar conga line, Kane headed home. Again, Ben Chilwellregistered the assist from another resplendent set-piece delivery. In England’s 1000th match, it looked as though the scoreline might end in quadruple figures.
The fourth came from a dead ball, too. A short corner from the right found Oxlade-Chamberlain whose inswinger was met by the head of Harry Maguire. Mijatovic, who by this point had already made a string of impressive stops, saved the Manchester United man’s header but the ball found the feet of Rashford who put two defenders on the flight back home to Montenegro before thwacking past the keeper.
In the 33rd minute, with the goals running as freely as the blood from Joe Gomez’s facial injury, Montenegro could have been reduced to ten men after a frustrated Marko Vesovicaimed a feeble headbutt at Marcus Rashford. The Souness-Keane types would no doubt have gone into anaphylactic shock had he walked, but it fell firmly within the category of ‘seen them given’.
Kane became the first England player to score a first-half hat trick since Alan Shearer in 1999 when he adjusted his body shape in time to meet Trent Alexander-Arnold’s deflected cross, swivel and stab past a punch-drunk Mijatovic. At half-time, England led 5-0. In the second period, the pressure was notably more blunted. It’s a truism that games which are 5-0 at half-time rarely finish 10-0.
Mason Mount did have what would have been his first England goal ruled out for offside in the 55th minute. It looked level, although had VAR been in action it would probably have ruled that the hair on the Chelsea midfielder’s knee was beyond the final defender.
Light the beacons: on 55 minutes, James Maddison replaced Oxlade-Chamberlain to finally make his England debut. The usually-bombastic Leicester City fantastista had a few flicks and flashes in his 35 minutes on the pitch but little else. From him, the best is yet to come.
In the 65th minute, Rashford burst into life once more. Leaving a steaming pile of Montenegro defenders in his wake he flashed into the penalty area and fizzed a ball across goal. It hit Sancho who was unable to steer it home and in the resulting melee Sofranac compounded Montengro’s misery by comically thumping the ball into his own net.
England added a seventh when Tammy Abraham turned in a low Jadon Sancho cross from the right-hand side with six minutes remaining – it was the on-from Chelsea striker’s first international goal. Diplomatically seated next to Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson in the Wembley stands, Raheem Sterling watched on and celebrated.
There were moments in which England were lacking. Jordan Pickford was forced into a superb save following some shaky defending from a Montenegro corner. The Everton keeper was called into action again when Vladimir Jovovic’s pass inexplicably split England’s defence and allowed FatosBeciraj through on goal. But all in all, you mustn’t grumble too much after a 7-0 win in your 1000th match, even if the Scotland XI from England’s first in 1872 – who are all dead – would probably have put up more of a fight.