In his programme notes England boss Gareth Southgate spoke of a desire to create a team that has fans ‘on the edge of their seats’. A noble target but on Sunday’s evidence against Lithuania one that may take some time.
England delivered a 2-0 qualifying victory that keeps them firmly on course for next year’s World Cup finals but a large Wembley crowd were hardly enthralled by the fare on offer.
In Southgate’s defence a limited Lithuania side spent most of the afternoon camped inside their own half, working diligently to disrupt England’s over-deliberate passing.
Goals in each half by the returning Jermain Defoe and Jamie Vardy ensured the three points which maintained England’s grip on Group F but Southgate was honest in his assessment of his first competitive game since being named full-time coach.
“Going forward we need to ensure we are moving the ball a bit quicker and making more runs in behind,” the former under-21 manager who replaced the sacked Sam Allardyce initially on a caretaker basis last year, told reporters.
“We have individual players who will play better than they did today. There are times when you know you’re going to win the game and perhaps don’t reach the levels we did against Germany.
“We would have liked to have scored more. It’s difficult when a team comes to pack the defence but credit to us we kept pushing. We were adventurous in looking for a third.
“I won’t be eulogising about the performance but overall it was a case of job done.”
England enjoyed 72 percent of possession against Lithuania and had 21 goal attempts to the visitors’ four, but struggled to open up a side they beat 4-0 and 3-0 in qualifying for Euro 2016.
Raheem Sterling set up the lively Defoe’s opener but failed to really spark, Adam Lallana produced some telling passes while Dele Alli struggled to make an impact.
Vardy and Marcus Rashford did offer some extra impetus when they were introduced in the second half.
England keeper Joe Hart, captain for the day, had one scary moment just before halftime when a high ball pumped into the area left him in two minds and Nerijus Valskis had the chance to level but saw his weak header cleared by John Stones.
Apart from one routine save in the second half, Hart was a spectator — and agreed it was hardly a thriller.
“It wasn’t pretty was it but we got the goals we wanted,” Hart said. “Lithuania were a better team than they gave themselves credit for. We would love to have scored five or six but we didn’t. We got the win and we’re top of the group.”
England continue their qualification quest away to Scotland in June when they also face France in a friendly.