England 1 Austria 0: Unconvincing victory marred by injury scare

IT was a son of these parts in Middlesbrough-born explorer Captain James Cook who famously set sail on an epic voyage of discovery on the HMS Endeavour in the 18th Century.

England captain Harry Kane is denied by Austrian keeper Daniel Bachmann in the first half of the Three Lions' friendly against Austria at Middlesbrough. Picture: PA.

On North Riding terrain that Cook knew so well, a present-day leader of another band of intrepid men in England manager Gareth Southgate – also familiar with this area – is busy making final preparations ahead of his own expedition.

Without doubt, the forthcoming European Championship is one which is likely to define the former Boro manager and captain’s time in charge of his country.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

England and Southgate got their victory in the first of two warm-up games at the Riverside Stadium - the Three Lions host Romania on Sunday - but quite how they did is anyone’s guess.

On a night when the Riverside welcomed supporters for the first time since 1,000 lucky spectators attended as part of a ‘return to fans’ pilot programme in Boro’s match with Bournemouth last September, England played in front of home supporters for the first time in 563 days and their defensive performance in the second half left a fair bit to be desired,

The hope is that England have not used up all of the luck ahead of a major tournament and are reserved some for when it really matters.

It was they who produced the only goal of the game at a timely juncture on 56 minutes and it was one that two teenagers will look back with fondness.

Fittingly, the move was instigated by the presence of Jude Bellingham and finished by a player in Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka, who was provided with the nourishment of a first ever international goal, sweetened by the fact that he is heading to his first ever senior tournament.

Handed his full England debut some 27 days before his 18th birthday, Bellingham, a powerhouse patrolling the midfield in the town once labelled as the ‘Infant Hercules’, showed that he belongs.

On the night, England, despite a bright opening and a well-crafted goal which saw captain Harry Kane and Jack Grealish show they are on the same radar, were hugely fortunate to secure victory.

Marcel Sabitzer struck the bar with a curler and tested the agility of Jordan Pickford, who had a sound night back close to home, with a wickedly curling shot and quite how the ball stayed out in fraught finale, which saw Trent Alexander-Arnold come off in discomfort with a hamstring issue, is unfathomable.

Fortunately for England’s sake, Sabitzer had a telling hand in their goal.

With the hosts needing a stimulus, it came when Grealish and Kane took matters into their own hands after Bellingham dispossessed Marco Friedl in midfield.

With Austria stretched, Kane picked out Jesse Lingard, whose cushioned pass looked destined for Grealish in front of goal and while Sabitzer made a saving tackle, he could only divert the ball into the path of the supporting Saka, who tucked the ball home with Bachmann stranded.

For fair parts, England looked what they were - a side minus the marquee talents of the likes of Phil Foden and Mason Mount and also fitful at the back.

Early on, Bellingham’s night saw him put an early free header straight at Daniel Bachmann and also saw a goal ruled out following Tyrone Mings’ foul on Martin Hinteregger.

England’s opening was brisk by the Tees from the moment Kane’s effortless crossfield pass picked out Alexander-Arnold, whose drive was turned away by Bachmann.

Saka volleyed a chance over at the near post, while Grealish was a nuisance for the Austrians and came in for some treatment, but England’s tempo faded and the visitors gave them more to think about.

Their best moment came when hesitancy in defence almost let in Christoph Baumgartner, blocked by a combination of Mings and Jordan Pickford.

Mings was also fortunate that a raised arm which caught Friedl in the area was not punished by the Belgian officials on a night when VAR was not in operation.

As cloud drifted in as a glorious summer day turned to night, England and Southgate wanted more with the Austrians starting to feel emboldened, before the hosts grabbed a relieving opener on the restart. It did not discourage the visitors.

England laboured. Moments after going on for his senior debut, York-born Ben Godfrey saw his blind backpass almost creep into his own net, only to be bailed out by club mate Jordan Pickford. It set the tone.

Substitute Alessandro Schopf almost levelled with a wickedly inswinging corner and another replacement in Michael Gregoritsch missed a glorious chance. Chaos rained and another England debutant in Ben White had to clear a late Schopf effort off the line.

England: Pickford; Alexander-Arnold, Coady, Mings (Godfrey 60), Trippier; Grealish (White 71), Rice (Ward-Prowse 60), Bellingham; Lingard (Watkins 65), Kane (Calvert-Lewin 60), Saka. Substitutes: Johnstone, Ramsdale, Phillips, J Henderson, Sancho.

Austria: Bachmann; Dragovic, Hinteregger, Friedl; Lainer (Trimmel 81), C Baumgartner (Schaub 62), Laimer (Grillitsch 62), X Schlager ( J Baumgartlinger 81), Alaba (Schopf 71); Sabitzer, Kalajdzic (Gregoritsch 71). Substitutes unused: A Schlager, Pervan, Ulmer, Posch, IIsanker, Lienhart.

Referee: Lawrence Visser (Belgium).