England 4 Lithuania 0: Three Lions justify fans’ faith but tougher tasks are on horizon

More than 80,000 people made the trip to Wembley

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The Independent Football

It has to be one of the all-time great performances, one that everyone in Europe will be impressed by when they see the figure.

In persuading 83,671 people to forgo a Friday night out and battle through north London’s transport in rush hour, the Football Association’s marketing department pulled off a blinder.

The players representing the governing body did well too, but theirs was much less of a challenge. To give an indication of just how mediocre Lithuania are as a footballing nation, they had on the bench Simonas Stankevicius.

Technically the centre-forward is a Leicester City player but the only team he has played for this season are Nuneaton Borough, currently in the relegation zone of the Conference.

On loan before Christmas, Stankevicius made one start and four substitute appearances. Nuneaton lost all five matches. He did not score. The reserve forward on England’s bench, Harry Kane, had 29 goals this season, and would add a 30th.

Stankevicius is only 19 and may turn out to be a decent player. Leicester think well of him and he is a regular in their development side, but the fact he had eight caps for Lithuania shows how shallow their talent pool is.

England do now occasionally have to resort to selecting players who are not automatic first choices at club level, but the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Andros Townsend are proven performers with plenty of top- flight first-team experience.

So the result was a foregone conclusion once Wayne Rooney broke the deadlock. The problem for Roy Hodgson in such circumstances is how he evaluates his players.

As England’s women found when they came up against Germany and USA recently, thrashing no-hopers in qualifiers is no preparation for facing proper opposition.

Tuesday’s match against Italy in Turin, though a it is friendly, will be a more thorough examination of where Hodgson’s team are in their post-World Cup rehabilitation.

So far this has gone very well. The attendance was testament to that and the sense of youthful enterprise England now exude. The size of the crowd meant England had a responsibility to entertain and they did their best.

After Lithuania’s lack of pace was exposed in the fourth minute, when a simple lob over the centre-halves released Rooney to hit the post, the visitors opted to sit deep and let England pass the ball in front of them.

In such situations the attacking side must produce width. This was Arsenal’s main failing in the recent failed attempt to overturn a three-goal deficit in Monaco. The one time they did get behind Monaco Aaron Ramsey scored. Yet they then returned to trying to pass through the clogged centre of the pitch.

Hodgson’s England do have width. Overlapping full-backs, on this occasion Nathaniel Clyne and Leighton Baines, provide it. So does the 4-3-3 formation through the wide attackers – Raheem Sterling and Danny Welbeck last night. The latter, especially, did well.

In Daniel Sturridge’s prolonged absence, Welbeck has cemented his place in the team but Kane’s emergence has put that achievement under threat.

Though Welbeck’s goal ratio for England is significantly better than his club return there is an expectation, based on Kane’s prodigious feats this season, that the Tottenham Hotspur man will score more heavily than his north London rival.

Welbeck, though, looks a better fit for Hodgson’s formation. Fluidity is the key to this England attack. One moment Sterling and Welbeck were getting chalk on their boots on the touchline, the next they were driving inside with the ball, or drifting into the centre without.

Welbeck’s link-up play with Rooney reflected the many years they spent as colleagues at Old Trafford. They exchanged one-twos around the box, play-switching long passes and chipped crosses.

Kane is more than just a target man. As he came through the ranks at White Hart Lane it was thought his lack of pace, and good game understanding, made him a Teddy Sheringham-type No 10.

Having worked on his pace and strength Kane got into the team as a No 9 but still retains the ability to drop off. The wing, though, is not such a natural habitat. He is more a Rooney than a Welbeck, and it made sense that it was the skipper who gave way for Kane’s rapturously greeted debut in the 72nd minute.

Rooney, though, will not be dropped. Nor is a return to the World Cup experiment of playing him on the left wing to be recommended. He may play deeper, in a 4-2-3-1 formation, but that risks leaving England light in midfield against the best opposition.

And what of Sturridge? England’s previous great hope. Or was that Sterling? It becomes hard to keep track of saviours. The one definite is that Hodgson now has an enviable problem when it comes to his front line: who to leave out?

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