England 3-0 Wales
Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Conor Coady and Danny Ings all scored their first international goals as an experimental England team — featuring four debutants — beat a Wales side missing both Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey.
The Premier League’s top scorer Dominic Calvert-Lewin was beaming from ear to ear as he confidently answered questions from the media this week. Three days on, he was beaming once more… but this time as both an England player and an England goalscorer.
His aerial ability has been there for all to see since the start of the league season, and from Jack Grealish’s mouth-watering cross he showed it once more. This one was a little different though, coming in an England shirt within 26 minutes of his senior international debut.
Try as they might, Ryan Giggs’ side never truly imposed themselves on this eerily quiet Wembley friendly. Instead, the Three Lions added two more from previously untapped sources. Calvert-Lewin was ecstatic with his first England goal, but there was a whole new level of excitement on show when centre-back Conor Coady, on only his second England appearance, came careering onto the end of a beautifully weighted Kieran Trippier free kick.
By the time Coady had finished bounding around in celebration, Danny Ings had scored his first England goal. This one had been a little longer in the making, though — Ings having been given his first cap under Roy Hodgson back in 2015, and only making it back into the England fold last month. His goal was the best of the bunch — an overhead kick from a corner after Michael Keane and substitute Tyrone Mings had shared a knockdown header to the Southampton forward.
Debutants came off and made way for more debutants. Inexperienced England players just kept coming, and all were involved in what ended up a comprehensive and confident performance. But it was far from complete. Indeed, England started disjointedly — lucky to take possession off the dominant visitors for the opening 20 minutes.
It felt like barely anything had actually happened before Calvert-Lewin’s opening goal, which came from the game’s first moment of real quality thanks to Grealish, and which came against the run of play in truth.
It had been a slow start from Gareth Southgate’s players, but then most of them hadn’t been his for very long. Arsenal wing-back Bukayo Saka — born in 2001 — was making his debut at left-back, as was Calvert-Lewin up front. Joining them from the start was backup keeper Nick Pope, Wolves’ Coady, Grealish, Kalvin Phillips and Ings. All had two caps or fewer before kick-off. It was a far cry from the England team of even last year… but these individuals have grown into their careers immensely since then, and they grew into this contest after the first goal of the night settled some early nerves and paved the way for the second and third.
An England lineup containing just 54 caps between them — the lowest for an England team since 1980 — failed to produce many more chances of note as the half wore on. At least they were looking forwards rather than sideways, though. That is all Southgate can ask for, and that is exactly what was so clearly missing from the disappointing double-header in Iceland and Denmark last month.
Wales took a more physical approach in the midfield after the restart, with 20-year-old Chelsea loanee Ethan Ampadu particularly unsporting in his breaking up of play on the halfway line. Eventually, the young man did pay dearly for one of his fouls.
A Kieran Trippier free kick led to an England goal for the first time since that moment in that World Cup semi-final, as Coady lurked at the back post to volley home like a seasoned striker. Wayne Hennessey was beaten again, and this time by a centre-back so rarely on the scoresheet that this was his first from open play since a header against Crawley Town in August 2016. Now he’d scored in an England-Wales derby at Wembley. The expression on his face told you how pleased he was to have even been on the field and given the opportunity. How timeless it is to be in awe of England duty.
Trippier, captain on the night, left the field alongside Joe Gomez and debut goalscorer Calvert-Lewin. On were Mason Mount, Tyrone Mings and another England youth team graduate to make his first senior appearance — Reece James of Chelsea. Mount assumed the right-wing role, allowing Ings to shunt across to his favoured centre-forward position. Coady became England captain. On only his second appearance.
In no time at all, he’d proven his striker’s instinct no end. The reason Coady had been left so free to score his collector’s-item goal was that two Wales defenders had inadvertently been grappling with one another in the box, rather than with their opponents. They had been confused then, but they were simply nowhere to be seen here, as Ings — in acres of space — produced a bicycle kick that evaded Wayne Hennessey. A goal so smooth yet so poorly defended that it took a minute to appreciate it hadn’t happened on the training ground. No, this was last season’s second highest scorer in the Premier League finally making his mark for his country. England were three up, and Wales were not at the races.
Minutes after Saka had so nearly crowned his debut off with a goal of his own, he was replaced by his club teammate Ainsley Maitland-Niles for only his second cap. The ever-dependable Harry Winks made way for James Ward-Prowse, and Harvey Barnes of Leicester City became England’s fourth and final debutant of the night when he came on for Man of the Match, Jack Grealish.
Saints duo Ings and Ward-Prowse tested the gloves of Hennessey late on, but the Welsh veteran was up to the task on both occasions.
And so ended an experimental friendly to say the least, but one which is sure to please manager Gareth Southgate. England go into their Nations League fixture with Belgium on the back of six clean sheets in a row, after cruising past neighbours Wales by three unanswered goals.
Photo Credits: Getty Images