Gareth Southgate passed the first test of his four-match job interview for the England manager’s position as his side produced an encouraging performance and 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Malta at Wembley.
The England Under-21 boss was named interim manager after Sam Allardyce’s short tenure came to an end following a newspaper sting and the early impressions were encouraging, even allowing for modest opposition.
England made light work of their visitors and a home win never looked in doubt once Daniel Sturridge provided Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp with a reminder of his talents as a central striker just before the half-hour mark.
The impressive Jordan Henderson – instrumental in the opener – also inspired England’s second as Dele Alli doubled the lead late in the first half.
England were less relentless in attack after the break but still looked a threat through Sturridge and debutant Jesse Lingard.
Malta were successful in their attempts at damage limitation, though, and England had to settle for the two-goal cushion, taking them on to six points in Group F.
A pattern of England domination was established right from the start and a theatrical save from Andrew Hogg in the Malta goal was all that prevented the hosts taking an eighth-minute lead – Wayne Rooney’s powerful drive forcing him into action.
A hamstring injury to Ryan Bertrand shortly after brought about his exit for Danny Rose, but that did little to upset England’s flow.
Hogg again came to Malta’s rescue 22 minutes in, as he palmed away Alli’s header from a pin-point Henderson cross, but the goalkeeper had little to do with Sturridge’s inexplicable miss from the rebound as he thrashed over from close range.
The Liverpool striker made amends seven minutes later, though, guiding another fine Henderson delivery into the bottom right-corner with a precise header.
Henderson was again in the thick of it as England scored a second just before the break, bursting into the area and teeing up Alli, who stabbed home after his initial effort was parried straight back to him.
England’s domination continued in the second half, but they struggled to find a way through a dogged Malta defence.
Lingard looked intent on making a mark on his debut and almost grabbed himself an assist in the 65th minute, feeding Theo Walcott in the area, with Hogg making a smart save to deny the Arsenal man.
And Lingard went close himself a few moments later, sending a low driven effort agonisingly wide of the bottom-right corner after quick thinking from Rooney at a free-kick.
Southgate’s men continued their search for a third and almost got it five minutes from time, lively substitute Marcus Rashford teeing up Alli with a teasing cross, but the midfielder sliced over from six yards as the hosts failed to make the score more reflective of their control.
Key Opta stats:
– England have won their last 14 qualifying games, and are unbeaten in their last 31 qualifiers overall (W24 D7).
– The Three Lions have kept a clean sheet in each of their last six qualifiers.
– Malta’s first attempt on goal came in the 81st minute, and was their only one of the game.
– England completed 832 passes against Malta; 672 more than their opponents.
– England have had 87 shots (inc. blocks) over their last four international games, scoring four goals in the process.
– Jordan Henderson completed 165 passes for England; five more than Malta achieved collectively (160).