These are the least fun internationals to watch, it’s literally a Premier a league club playing a full strength aside away to Crawley Town.
Gareth Southgate sought to even the odds by selecting Joe Hart in goal. Southgate made the point that this doesn’t mean Hart is guaranteed to start going forward and 3 Premier League games isn’t enough of a sample size to judge his goalkeepers form.
Within a minute Raheem Sterling got a clear sight of goal but mis-controlled. Two minutes later Harry Kane forgot it’s no longer August and hit a point blank header straight at the keeper.
As the opening period pressed on the selection of Phil Jones & Gary Cahill at centre back whilst the more natural ball playing Stones, Keane & Maguire sat bored looked odd as did picking Jake Livermore who did ensure any hard Maltese tackling was met with greater force but whose passing has all the range of an 8 year old throwing the shot putt.
As a result the remainder of the first half was drab as England were pedestrian whilst Malta played a back 7. The delivery on the flanks and 6 first half corners was awful.
Unsurprisingly Marcus Rashford was introduced for the second half at the expense of Sterling. Within 2 minutes he’d shown more endeavour than Sterling had managed in 45, gliding past the Maltese right back with his pace.
The breakthrough finally arrived on 52 minutes with Livermore looping in a cross which Alli held and a neat reverse picked out Kane who fired home 0-1.
It sparked Malta into sporadic attacks going close on 58 minutes.
Jamie Vardy came on after 70 minutes and within 3 minutes nipped in behind and forced a decent save from the keeper.
The pace slowed in the final 15 minutes but on 85 minutes Ryan Bertrand made sure of the win with a long range effort that bounced in front of Hogg 0-2.
Rashford continued to impress and a beautiful flick sent Walker away but he shot instead of laying on a tap in for Vardy.
The floodgates belatedly opened and a fine Kane cross was flicked home by late sub Danny Welbeck 0-3 on 90 minutes.
Rashford crossed and Kane smashed home with the final kick of the game for 0-4.
Ultimately England made heavy weather of their night in the Mediterranean sun although the result rarely looked in doubt.
Slovakia will offer a far sterner test but England should benefit from playing opponents more willing to attack rather than packing their own 18 yard line.
Rashford will surely start and I’d expect Dier to replace Livermore. But given England’s lack of creativity in central midfield I’d like to see Keane or Stones play given their ability to bring the ball out from defence.
Win on Monday and England are virtually home and that’s about all Southgate could gain from this game.
Hart 6- did nothing wrong and a first clean sheet of the season!
Walker 5- Solid but poor control in key situations. It’s fortunate for him Trippier is injured.
Bertrand 6- not great crossing but got his first England goal. Danny Rose & Luke Shaw won’t be quaking in their boots
Cahill 7- showed calm authority cleaning up the odd Maltese break
Jones 6- never looked entirely comfortable but did little wrong.
Livermore 5- a steely presence in a game that was never going to need it. Created nothing and gave away a coupe of free kicks.
Henderson 7- the captain for the night started brightly but faded.
Oxlade-Chamberlain 6- direct and pacey but inconsistent in quality, in other news water’s wet.
Alli 6- still looking for that signature game for England but ticking along for now, nice assist for the opener.
Sterling 4- awful, missed a decent chance in the first minute and then made the Malta right back look like Bonucci.
Kane 8- unlucky with an early header but confidence grew after the opener. It’s now 5 goals in his last 3 internationals.
Rashford 7- excellent, showed pace and penetration, will start on Monday night.
Vardy 6- showed his usual pace and unlucky not to score
Welbeck 6- late sub showed plenty of energy and nicked a late goal.