England 4 Lithuania 0: Five things we learnt from Wembley

Kane a phenomenon; Welbeck a threat; England have an identity

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The Independent Football

Kane knows how to write a fairy tale

Harry Kane is some phenomenon. Even by the standards of his year, his first cap must have been the most remarkable moment, beating even his two-goal north London derby back in February. He had to wait interminably long for it, standing in the cold on the touchline alongside Ross Barkley until the ball went out of play, but from then on it was a fairy tale, as he was greeted with the loudest roar of an enthusiastic night.

With his first meaningful movement he peeled away at the far post and nodded Raheem Sterling’s cross into the net.

Enthusiastic Welbeck offers a different threat

It might well have been a frustrating week to be Danny Welbeck. He must have been aware of the nation’s growing “Kanemania”, the public insistence that Kane should usurp Welbeck and partner Wayne Rooney up front, starting last night at Wembley. Roy Hodgson, though, is not a man to be carried along by public fashions and he spoke at his press conference on Thursday about his reluctance to “succumb to the clamour”.

Welbeck played with the enthusiasm and focus of a man eager to reward his manager’s trust, and to prove to all the Kane fans that he carries his own threat. Welbeck performed a role more suited to his own skills than to Kane’s: darting in from the wing, reaching the byline, testing the defenders with his strength and his burst  of pace.

The slower pace of international football often suits Welbeck and he was dangerous throughout here. He created the first goal, nutmegging Tadas Kijanskas, skipping away from Tomas Mikuckis and drawing the save from which Rooney headed in. He continued to test the defenders and, on a luckier evening, he might have won a penalty or two when brought down in the box. When it came, his goal was not especially pretty, deflected in after hitting his shoulder, but it was deserved.

Friday night kick-off brings atmospheric full house

There are some very good reasons for not holding these internationals on Friday nights, primarily for the sake of those fans who do not live in the south of England.

There is a benefit, though, in that Wembley was sold out last night, in a way that might not have been the case on a Saturday afternoon. Despite problems with the trains, the stadium was almost entirely full and the atmosphere was positive and supportive throughout.

This might sound excessively optimistic, but given the status of the game, an effective formality against ordinary opposition just months after an underwhelming World Cup, it was impressive enough. There has been a reconnection of sorts between this England team and their public since Brazil, and the bad old days of England players being booed at the national stadium have been left behind.

The Friday night kick-off, and the relaxed post-work crowd, is not without drawbacks, but it does help.

Re-energised England team now has an identity

As Roy Hodgson has sought to re-energise his team and his public since Brazil, he has prioritised energy and pressure without the ball. While England’s route to Euro 2016 has been fairly simple, they have played with enough pace and intensity to keep everyone engaged. If the high point for this was the opening 2-0 win in Switzerland last September, this was impressive in that way too.

In almost every role, Hodgson went for the faster, sharper option, meaning that he had the twin engines of Fabian Delph and Jordan Henderson in midfield and then the firework bursts of Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling either side of Wayne Rooney.

It worked, too, as England hassled Lithuania into errors, maintained the pressure throughout and created enough chances to win by an even greater margin than they eventually did. This England team have an identity now, which has not always been the case in the past.

Carrick role crucial to team keeping the ball

It was not, ultimately, Michael Carrick who won England this game, but he did give an obvious demonstration of the skills he can bring to this team. Deployed  in the deep midfield role, he is a far more natural fit there than Jack Wilshere or James Milner, both used recently. This was Carrick’s first competitive international start since October 2013, but he took to it instantly, simply showing for the ball and  moving it forward to a white shirt with as little fuss as  possible.

It allowed England to keep the ball and keep on the front foot, which was the key to the game. Against better opposition he would be even more important.

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