Gareth Southgate’s final game as interim manager of England ended in a disappointing 2-2 draw with Spain at Wembley Stadium.
Armed with Jamie Vardy up front and a counter-attacking mentality, the home side raced into an early lead after nine minutes through Adam Lallana’s penalty and Vardy doubled the advantage early on in the second half.
The game looked as good as over heading into the final five minutes, but two late strikes from Iago Aspas and Isco brought Spain back from the dead and meant England threw away what would have been an impressive victory.
Southgate is the bookies favourite to be appointed permanent England manager and he did himself no harm tonight, despite the late collapse. It was his decision to start with the pace of Jamie Vardy, Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard up front in a counter-attacking tactic that would have won the game for the Three Lions. The first example of that came with England’s opener after nine minutes.
Lallana has been in sparkling form for Liverpool in recent weeks and took that momentum into the game. He unlocked the Spain defence with a clever pass that Vardy raced onto and took round Pepe Reina before the goalkeeper brought down last season’s Premier League top scorer. If it was a competitive game, Reina would have likely seen an early red card as he was stopping a goal-scoring opportunity but the friendly circumstances meant no card was given. Nonetheless, Lallana showed maturity to step up and fire the home side in front from the spot.
With a lead in tow, England sat back and allowed Spain to keep possession of the ball while choosing the right time to hit them on the break. It meant that the first half lacked chances, but that is due to Spain’s inability to show a cutting edge coupled with stellar defensive work from Southgate’s back four. In fact, it would be England who had the only other opportunity of the first half.
Sterling played a nice one-two with Lingard in the midfield before getting wide and swinging a low cross, but Vardy was inches away from making contact and putting England 2-0 up from six yards. It was an incisive counter-attack but the attacking trio could not make the most of it.
The second half started in lightning fashion for the Three Lions. Vardy’s poor pass looked to have ended an England attack from a good position, but Jordan Henderson’s great cross to the back post allowed the Leicester City strike to dive at the ball with a header and he beat Reina from four yards. It was a great header and a good assist for Henderson who was given the captain’s armband for tonight’s game.
With momentum on their side, England continued to threaten. Lingard won it off of Thiago and played in the pace of Walcott, but Reina did brilliantly to make a diving save to keep out the Arsenal man’s low effort from ten yards. Despite the save, England did double their lead three minutes after the interval.
Spain were better in the second period after a lacklustre first half. David Silva wriggled free of England defenders and fired a shot at the near post that Tom Heaton saved well, but unfortunately for Spain, Nathaniel Clyne made a great clearance to stop Aspas from tapping in the rebound. Alvaro Morata came off the bench for the 2008 and 2012 European Champions but the Real Madrid man was denied by Heaton’s sharp save from 20 yards.
With just a minute of normal time to go, the England cave in started. Aspas raced at Stones, who backed off the Celta Vigo attacker and showed him onto his favoured left foot, so the La Liga Player of the Month made no mistake with a superb curling effort into the top corner. It was Aspas’s first goal for Spain on his first cap and he was instrumental in his side’s fight back.
The board went up for added time and Southgate would have been worried when five minutes was shown. As you would have predicted, Spain grabbed the equaliser with the last kick of the game. Dani Carvajal’s chipped pass was classy and on point to Isco’s runner, and the Real Madrid midfielder squeezed it past Heaton from a tight angle. It was a gutting blow for Southgate and his reactions showed that.
Spain’s late show was a disappointing end to what was a good performance for 80 minutes by England. The late goals were also the first goals that England have conceded since the Euros, but Southgate will be furious in the dressing room.
Match Report by Kyle Dixon (@kyledixon95)