Marcus Rashford’s extraordinary rise shows no sign of abating, with the teenager’s volley on his England debut helping to down Australia last night while boosting his Euro 2016 chances.
The 18-year-old has broken into the first team at Manchester United, won the FA Cup and become the Three Lions’ youngest goalscoring debutant in the space of 92 days.
Rashford has flourished since being thrust into the spotlight in late February and opened his England account in style, capitalising on Daniel Sturridge’s absence as Roy Hodgson’s side defeated Asian champions Australia in Sunderland.
A calf strain kept the oft-injured Sturridge out at the Stadium of Light and his teenage replacement shone on his international audition, volleying home impressively after just two minutes and 18 seconds.
The Liverpool striker’s latest setback and Rashford’s man-of-the-match display give Hodgson a selection headache ahead of whittling his squad down to 23 on Tuesday, but there is no doubt about Wayne Rooney’s place in France.
Brought off the bench at half-time, England’s all-time top scorer gleefully collected a pass from Raheem Sterling and rifled into the top corner.
More hairy moments at the back show there still remains fine-tuning to be done, though, epitomised by substitute Eric Dier directing Milos Degenek’s cross past his own goalkeeper following a potential injury to stand-in captain Chris Smalling.
The win was harder than had been expected against the side ranked 50th in the world as Hodgson tried different combinations in England’s second home match away from Wembley since 2007.
John Stones, Jack Wilshere and Sterling were the only survivors from Sunday’s 2-1 win against Turkey in Manchester, with Rashford thrown in from the outset after Sturridge failed to recover from a calf strain.
Just like at United, he capitalised on his fortune in style, taking a mere 138 seconds to net his maiden international goal.
Having played the ball to Sterling and then seen the resulting cross deflect off Bailey Wright, Rashford showed no little skill and composure to volley the ball into the ground and past Mat Ryan.
It was a magical start to the night, but England were unable to follow it up, too often giving up possession and struggling to make a telling pass. When they did, Rashford’s heavy touch prevented him getting a shot away.
Stones did well to block Australia’s own debutant Jamie Maclaren at the other end, before Smalling, captaining his country for the first time, raced across his path to head over his own goal.
The Socceroos were making England’s defence look vulnerable, although the hosts upped the ante as half-time approached.
Ryan blocked a close-range Adam Lallana effort and thwarted Sterling after a lovely, clipped Wilshere pass before Australia’s talented goalkeeper produced an acrobatic stop to deny Jordan Henderson, who was a ball boy when England last played at the Stadium of Light in 2003.
England moved the ball quicker after half-time, but they still looked shaky, with a mix-up between Stones and Smalling leading to some anxious moments.
Tom Rogic struck a shot over as the visitors looked to gain parity, only for England to pull further ahead in the 55th minute.
Henderson’s pass ran through to Sterling on the left and the Manchester City man raced forwards, drawing in Wright and gifting Rooney acres of space. England’s all-time top scorer received the pass and rifled home with aplomb.
The 30-year-old then just failed to connect with a low cross from Rashford, the youngster’s final action before being withdrawn to a standing ovation.
Nathaniel Clyne tried his luck from the edge of the box and James Milner whipped a strike wide of the far post, although things at the back were still looking uncertain.
Smalling went off appearing to hold his hamstring and defensive midfielder Dier was brought on in his place.
Usually adept at centre-back, within two minutes of coming on he beat Fraser Forster as Tomi Juric’s presence saw him turn home a Degenek cross.
That moment compounded existing fears about England’s strength at the back, but they saw out the remainder of the match without much fuss as Newcastle’s Andros Townsend tried to make an impact and Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton came on for a brief debut, the first Claret to represent England since Martin Dobson in 1974.
England: Forster (Heaton 87), Clyne, Smalling (Dier 73), Stones, Bertrand, Wilshere (Milner 46), Drinkwater, Henderson, Sterling (Townsend 76), Rashford (Barkley 63), Lallana (Rooney 46). Unused substitutes: Walker, Kane, Alli, Rose, Hart.
Australia: Ryan, Risdon (Degenek 74), Wright, Milligan, Smith, Jedinak, Mooy (Goodwin 84), Luongo (Oikonomidis 58), Rogic (Juric 73), Kruse (Irvine 84), Maclaren (McKay 58). Unused substitutes: Birighitti, Behich, Inman, Mauk, Wilkinson, Federici.
Referee: Danny Makkelie (Holland).