The Leeds United midfielder had the good fortune to miss a disappointing World Cup qualifier with a minor calf injury.
England talked at length about the competition for places before the game with manager Gareth Southgate warning in the programme, “there’s never a moment when someone can assume they’re going to hang onto their place”.
Phillips’s place looks safer than it did 24 hours ago. Rather than make the like-for-like change of selecting Jordan Henderson, Southgate stuck with the more positive midfield make-up that served him well in Andorra, Phil Foden playing a more progressive version of the Phillips role.
“We’re intrigued to see Phil and Mason (Mount) in those attacking midfield roles. It’s an exciting front line,” said Southgate before the game.
How much was down to England’s lacklustre football and how much the formation was hard to judge, but England stank the place out. Too many in the 69,380 crowd were more interested in flying paper aeroplanes – a return to the bad old days – than whether their team could score a second-half winner. They could not, and were booed off.
With 15 minutes to go, Henderson had been introduced, Mount had been pushed onto the left wing, and Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling – so crucial to Southgate’s England, such pale shadows last night – were withdrawn.
“Over the last couple of years we’ve set such a high standard, we fell below par tonight. We’re disappointed but it’s a point in the right direction,” said Sheffield’S Kyle Walker afterwards, which only made you wonder what he thought the right direction was.
It was a night fans will want to forget, but the authorities most likely will not.
Whilst Jimmy Greaves and Roger Hunt were given a rousing send-off and the taking of the knee was (largely) enthusiastically greeted, sections of the home crowd chanted about Hungary’s fans being racist then booed at the end of their national anthem.
Hungarian punches and police truncheons flew in the 1,000-strong away end after a fan was arrested for what the Metropolitan Police described as “a racially aggravated public order offence” shortly after kick-off, and the opening goal was greeted with a flare.
Meanwhile, in Tirana, Albania’s qualifier in Poland was suspended after bottles were thrown onto the pitch.
Given Hungary have been punished for crowd issues twice since last season, England once (partly for allowing a flare into the Denmark game) with the verdict on the European Championship final pending, it was troubling.
So, in a less serious way, was England’s football, which took half an hour to go beyond terrible, and was rarely above mundane.
When Luke Shaw raised his boot high enough to catch Loic Nego’s head in the penalty area Roland Sallai converted the spot-kick and put England behind for the first time in this qualifying campaign.
Foden made the equaliser when a spell of Hungarian indiscipline caught up with them.
Zsolt Nagy, his namesake Adam (once of Bristol City) and Dominik Szoboszlai all conceded free-kicks in quick succession and the third glanced off the back of a defender into the path of Barnsley-born John Stones, who gleefully converted.
Peter Gulacsi saved from Sterling in first-half stoppage time but there was to be no onslaught.
England had more of the ball, Kane curled a shot at Gulacsi, Stones headed narrowly wide at a corner, Sterling tried to shoot Kane’s lovely pass through rather than around the goalkeeper.
With his dribbling England’s best weapon, it was surprising Grealish was the first player substituted, but Kane and Sterling’s departures were more logical.
In stoppage time, Kane’s replacement Tammy Abraham limped off injured. It was that kind of night.
Southgate felt his side under-performed but was not prepared to make judgements on one game.
He said: “Disappointing performance. Full credit to Hungary, I thought they caused us a tactical problem and I don’t think we played at the level we needed to play.
“We’ll go away and think about the balance of the team but individually we can do better as well.
“We shouldn’t just judge things on one game, right across the board we weren’t sharp with our play, gave the ball away.
“It is the first time for a long time but we have to hold our hands up.”
England: Pickford; Walker, Stones, Mings, Shaw; Foden, Rice, Mount; Sterling (J Henderson 75), Kane (Abraham 75 (Watkins 90)), Grealish (Saka 62). Unused substitutes: Trippier, Johnstone, Coady, Tomori, Chilwell, Sancho, Ward-Prowse, Ramsdale.
Hungary: Gulacsi; Kecskes, Lang, Szalai; Nego (Bolla 90), A Nagy, Schaefer (Vecsei 79), Z Nagy; Szoboszlai (Nikolic 90), Sallai (Hahn 79), Schoen (Holender 68). Unused substitutes: Balogh, Salloi, Gazdag, Varga Bogdan.
Referee: A Hernandez (Spain).