Danny Welbeck scored his first international goals for more than a year as England began their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign with a morale-boosting win in Switzerland.
England manager Roy Hodgson, who came in for criticism following last week’s uninspiring win over Norway, handed Welbeck the central striker’s role he craves and he responded by scoring both goals in this impressive victory in Basle.
The 23-year-old showed why Arsenal paid £16m for his signature as he turned home a Raheem Sterling cross on a lightning counter-attack that also involved captain Wayne Rooney.
And the former Manchester United man rounded off the win in stoppage time with a well-taken finish.
Hodgson turned the air blue following criticism of his team at Wembley last Wednesday, but last night he had nothing but kind words for his team after they put in a much-improved display.
“I’ve never really lost faith,” said Hodgson. “I’m just pleased to see the boys play well. I thought that the way we approached the game from the first minute was exactly what we wanted and we got our reward for once.
“I think we made hard work of it because there were so many chances to score goals before we eventually got the one that we needed but it was a good performance away from home against one of the better teams in the group and I’m pleased we won.”
Without 15 injured seniors, Hodgson’s young starting XI had just 282 caps among them whereas Switzerland’s team had played 481 times in total.
That, and the fact that Switzerland were ranked 11 places above England, made the hosts the pre-match favourites but Hodgson’s men were the best team going forward by some distance.
The attacking trio of Welbeck, Sterling and Rooney created many chances, but their finishing let them down until Welbeck poked home his first England goal since September 6, 2013.
Former Leeds midfielder Fabian Delph, making his full debut, also put in a strong display in the middle of the park.
The defensive vulnerabilities that cost England in Brazil were still evident – Phil Jones almost gifted the Swiss the lead in the first half – but Hodgson will return to England with a broad smile on his face after beating his biggest rivals in Group E.
Delph showed no sign of nerves as he started confidently, pinching the ball off Stephan Lichtsteiner and crossed for Sterling, but his control was poor and Switzerland were let off.
Delph’s enthusiasm descended into recklessness moments later though when he cut Valon Behrami down with a late tackle that was somehow left unpunished.
He was not so lucky with his second bad tackle on Lichtsteiner which earned him a booking.
It did not take long for Hodgson to come to the edge of his technical area, but there was no need for him to be alarmed – his team were putting on a much more confident, high-tempo display than the one that led to so much doom and gloom last week.
Jack Wilshere chipped a delightful 30-yard ball to Rooney, but the captain’s control was desperately poor and the attack faded out. An error by Steve von Bergen allowed Sterling to race at the defence but Rooney’s shot dribbled straight into the arms of Yann Sommer.
With Xherdan Shaqiri in their side, Switzerland always looked capable of hitting England on the break though.
Haris Seferovic latched on to a clever pass from the Bayern Munich midfielder, but the referee waved play on when the striker went down under pressure from Jones.
Jones carelessly gave the ball away and Shaqiri took advantage, carving a lovely pass through to Seferovic again, but this time Joe Hart saved with his right leg.
England had a brilliant chance of their own just before the half-hour when Welbeck broke down the right. England were three on one, but the Arsenal striker’s pass to Sterling was poor and Switzerland rushed back to snuff out the danger.
Only Sommer’s acrobatics prevented England from leading at half-time. He tipped Rooney’s shot behind and from the resulting corner the Switzerland goalkeeper denied Jones with a superb one-handed save.
Behrami almost handed England the lead just after the restart when his clearance drifted inches wide of his own goal after some good work by Henderson and Sterling.
England were soon under pressure again, but Hart did well to deny Seferovic, who hit a sweet volley towards the top corner.
Switzerland’s pressing left them open at the back and England took full advantage just before the hour.
Rooney galloped forward from the halfway line and slipped the ball straight into Sterling’s path.
The Liverpool winger, compared to Marc Overmars by Rooney on the eve of the match, cantered down the left just like the flying Dutchman and bypassed three defenders with a flat ball across the box to Welbeck, who shinned the ball into the net at the far post.
Sterling almost doubled England’s lead with a mazy dribble into the box, but Lichtsteiner put in a superb last-ditch tackle.
Moments after his introduction, Josip Drmic broke through the England back line and he was allowed to advance on goal despite being offside.
The striker rounded Hart easily, but Cahill came to England’s rescue with a superb block on the line.
Ricardo Rodriguez’s deflected shot sent a few pulses racing in the away end, but Hart saved.
Then in the fourth minute of stoppage time, Sterling found substitute Rickie Lambert on the break.
The Liverpool striker played the ball on to Welbeck and he slotted the ball past Sommer to seal the victory.