How Marcus Rashford must love going ‘on the road’ with England.
Three months on from netting a quite stunning opener at Elland Road as the Three Lions beat Costa Rica in their World Cup send-off the Manchester United striker was at it again last night in Leicester.
His 54th-minute winner may not quite have been on a par with that wonderful strike in Leeds. But there was no denying the quality of a sweetly-struck volley that not only brought victory over Switzerland, but also banished fears of Gareth Southgate’s men setting a new unwanted record of four consecutive losses.
Such a feat had looked beyond the hosts during a first half in which the Swiss had been by far the better side.
Xherdan Shaqiri struck a post and Jack Butland, after overcoming some early nerves, had to make two fine saves to keep out the impressive visitors.
England, in contrast, had offered little in attack. Not as little, it should be said, as suggested by a ‘highlights’ reel of the home side’s better moments in the opening 45 minutes that was shown on the big screen.
It began and ended with a Harry Maguire crossfield ball that ended with a crunching Swiss tackle and the ball going out of touch.
Tony Cottee, being interviewed by a rather excitable chap with the pitchside mic, looked rather non-plussed by the choice of clip.
It had been a similar story before kick-off when the former Foxes striker was asked for his favourite memories of the King Power Stadium. “Er, I haven’t got any because I played at Filbert Street,” came the reply.
What Cottee will have enjoyed, however, is the quality of Rashford’s finish. An England corner sailing over a scrum of red and white shirts inside the Swiss six yard box initially suggested the chance had gone. Kyle Walker, though, had other ideas and his searching cross found Rashford unmarked at the back post.
It was by no means an easy chance, but the Red Devils striker made it look so with a sweet side-footed finish on the full that gave Yann Sommer no chance in the Swiss goal.
Up to that point England had looked distinctly second best. Part of this could be put down to nine changes from the side beaten by Spain at Wembley last Saturday and partly down to a rustiness among those drafted in.
Three of those named in what was effectively a second-choice XI are yet to start a Premier League fixture this term.
Danny Rose, meanwhile, has just one start to his name at Tottenham Hotspur, while Rashford staying on until the final whistle means he has played almost an hour more for the national team in the past four days than he has all season for United.
This lack of game time is a big headache for Southgate and one that is only going to get worse. England’s performance in that first half was a long way from the football equivalent of an aspirin for their manager.
Where Switzerland were lively in possession and constantly asking questions of the home defence, the Three Lions looked ponderous and far too rigid in midfield.
The Swiss were the total opposite, any player sporting red in those opening 45 minutes always seeming to have an extra option when looking to move the ball on as Shaqiri and Mario Gavranovic linked together brilliantly with Granit Xhaha.
This fluency led to the visitors not only dominating possession – 65 per cent – but also the number of first-half chances.
Shaqiri hit a post after a poor pass from Butland had put James Tarkowski in trouble. A couple of minutes earlier the Stoke City goalkeeper had come close to passing the ball into his own net.
After that worrying start, however, Butland settled down and denied Gavranovic with a fine reflex save. He then did the same to Ricardo Rodriguez, whose drilled shot after skipping past Danny Welbeck had seemed destined for the net.
At the other end Sommer had a much quieter opening 45 minutes. He did, though, have to be alert to deny the impressive Rose and then Welbeck in quick succession.
Matters improved for the hosts and Rashford duly broke the deadlock with his fifth international goal.
Eric Dier then shot high and wide when well placed, as did Jordan Henderson. But it was John Stones, one of six substitutions made by Southgate in the final half-hour, who ensured England tasted victory for the first time since knocking Sweden out of the World Cup quarter-finals.
His block to deny Shaqiri from a Fabian Schar cut-back was outstanding and, just like Rashford’s stellar finish, worthy of winning any game.
England: Butland; Walker, Tarkowski (Stones 60), Maguire; Alexander-Arnold (Trippier 79), Delph (Henderson 68), Dier, Rose (Chilwell 79); Loftus-Cheek (Lingard 60), Welbeck (Kane 61), Rashford. Unused substitutes: Pickford, McCarthy, Bettinelli, Gomez, Gray.
Switzerland: Sommer; Schar, Djourou, Akanji (Mehmedi 46); Lichtsteiner, Zakaria (Fernandes 66), Xaha, Freuler (Zuber 66), Rodriguez (Moubandje 46); Shaqiri (Seferovic 81); Gavranovic (Ajeti 66). Unused substitutes: Mvogo, Kobel, Klose, Mbabu, Embolo, Sow.
Referee: Clement Turpin (France).