England took their time to secure victory in the season's first semi- professional international, Gateshead's Mark Hine scoring in the 85th minute to earn a 1-0 win over a dogged but limited Welsh side at Yeovil on Tuesday.
It was England's fourth consecutive success in this annual fixture, but for their manager, Tony Jennings, who had 10 new faces in his squad of 16, there was relief rather than celebration. "We lost our rhythm after a really good, positive opening," he said. "The sandy pitch and the strong wind against us didn't help in the second half, when we didn't play at all well."
In the first half, however, the skilful Delwyn Humphreys, of Kidderminster Harriers, and the Marine centre-forward, Brian Ross - one of three Northern Premier League players in the home side - were a real threat to Wales, who put out a strong defence but had little to offer in midfield or up front. Steve Stott and - before he went off injured - Richard Forysth also played well in midfield for England, while the pick of the Welsh team was the Merthyr Tydfil stopper, Gareth Abraham.
Jennings can now look ahead to three more fixtures this season: away to both the Dutch Olympic XI and Gibraltar, and at home against the Highland League. Since the demise of the Four Nations' Tournament (which also featured Scotland, Italy and the Netherlands) eight years ago, outings for the England non-League side have been irregular. "The problem is that our standard of semi-pro football is not matched on the continent," Jennings explained, "but we are approaching different countries for new fixtures."
Although the tournament is unlikely to be revived, a more competitive fixture structure (perhaps some sort of British championship) would surely boost interest in the semi-professional team - Tuesday's gate was a disappointing 703.