ENGLAND 1, AUSTRALIA 0
Ollie Watkins was England’s matchwinner as he took his excellent club form with Aston Villa on to the international stage.
The striker, who has already scored seven goals for Villa, netted the only goal of the game in the friendly against Australia at Wembley.
Watkins was earlier denied another by the frame of the goal.
But with the important Euro qualifier against Italy on Tuesday, manager Gareth Southgate fielded what was effectively his second string to avoid key players picking up injuries.
It was good to give squad players match time at international level, though nobody stood out to an extent they merited a start against Italy.
Indeed, Australia were unlucky to lose as they created more goal attempts than England and had some great chances and struck the frame of the goal.
It was a night for Watkins to savour as he explained: “It is always an honour putting on this shirt. It has been a long time coming. I have been waiting a long time for the next call up. I was looking forward to it and I wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip.
“Obviously we didn’t make it easy for ourselves, but it’s the first time for us all playing together. Not many of us have a lot of caps. There were only a few with more experience and in the squad recently.
“It was tough and Australia played well and they didn’t make it easy for us. But you want games like that, you want a real challenge. An all-round good night.
“They’re the best ones, the tap-ins, I’ll take it all day. At the end of the day, it says your name on the Sky Sports app, and that’s all that matters so I’ll take it.Embed from Getty Images
“Whenever I have had the opportunity in an England shirt I have done well. I know I can play at the highest level with these players. Whenever I go on the field I just try and do that.”
“There’s so many good forwards around scoring goals and it is about taking your opportunity when you are on the pitch.”
Southgate’s verdict was: “We made a lot of changes, that made it really difficult for the players. It is tough playing international when you haven’t got a lot of caps behind you.
“We were not cohesive, I gave them a really tough challenge. Australia were good, they were athletic and well organised. I am pleased for the win after putting them in the position.
“We have given two debuts, very pleased with Ollie Watkins. There were some positives, we know we can play better but it was tough for the players. We saw a lot of things we knew. You need to give players the opportunity on this stage.
“In some positions we have huge depth and in others we haven’t. We have to constantly keep looking. We have an under-21 team who are playing very well. We need that competition for places and of course there are some senior players who are injured.”
Southgate agreed this is the best group of players since he managed England: “Since we have been in charge yes. The young players who have come in now have a lot of experience as well, Declan Rice I think has 40 caps now. We have some powerful players, we were not quite so powerful tonight.”
On being considered among the Euro 2024 favourites, Southgate said: “We have to embrace it. Four or five years ago we were not quite at that level. Now the belief is there, there’s no more experience the players need to go through with us or their clubs, we have Champions League winners. We have to embrace that.”
Southgate was disappointed with the booing of captain Jordan Henderson, presumably a reaction to his move to Saudi Arabia.
Rene Meulensteen, Australia’s assistant manager, described their performance as better than any in the finals of the World Cup.
“We have proved we can go toe to toe with the big nations. We just need to find that bit extra to put them to the sword.
“We respect everyone but fear nobody.”
Chelsea defender Levi Colwill made his first appearance for England as Southgate changed all but one of his starting 11 that began the 3-1 win over Scotland just over a month ago.
Crystal Palace’s Sam Johnstone was selected in goal while Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins and West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen both started up front.
Brighton defender Lewis Dunk was the only player to start this and the Scotland game.
Southgate had plenty in reserve, the likes of Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham, Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden, Rice, Harry Maguire, John Stones, Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier and Jordan Pickford.
Australia included a host of players that represent English or Scottish clubs, including St Mirren pair Ryan Strain and Keanu Baccus, Hearts’ Kye Rowles, Martin Boyle of Hibernian, Harry Souttar of Leicester City and Cameron Burgess of Ipswich Town. Former Brighton and Arsenal goalkeeper Mat Ryan also started.
There was a period of silence pre-match in memory of those who have lost their lives in the Israel/Palestine conflict with the players wearing black armbands.
Before that, there had been applause to remember former England internationals Trevor Francis and Francis Lee who have recently died.
A piece of history as France’s Stephanie Frappart became the first woman to referee a men’s international at Wembley.
Australia came close to snatching a 12th minute lead when Baccus’ cross was deflected off Fikayo Tomori and Johnstone pulled off a flying save low to his left.
They had a second gilt-edged chance when Mitchell Duke fired agonisingly wide from, a right-wing cross.
Rowles also shot over when well-placed after a scramble which followed a corner.
England had to wait almost half an hour before carving out their first chance when Watkins, released by James Maddison’s inch-perfect through ball, beat the offside trap and rounded Ryan before seeing his shot strike an upright from a tight angle.
Australia ought to have taken the lead in the final minute of the half when they carved open the England defence. Strain looked set to score, but Dunk spectacularly deflected the shot over the crossbar.
England, lucky not to be behind in the opening period, made the breakthrough in the 57th minute when Jack Grealish fired a shot across the face of goal.
It was not on target until Watkins, sliding in at the far post, converted from almost on the goalline for his third England goal.
Australia hit back and Craig Goodwin forced Johnstone to turn his shot around the post for a corner.
England made four changes after an hour as Conor Gallagher, Tomori, Grealish and Henderson were replaced by Kalvin Phillips, Stones, Rashford and Trippier.
That was soon followed by a further two as Watkins and Maddison made way for Foden and debutant Eddie Nketiah.
Australia were desperately unlucky not to equalise nine minutes from tome when a header from Connor Metcalfe struck the upright.