Jordan Henderson was booed by some England fans on a night when Ollie Watkins helped Gareth Southgate’s much-changed side secure an unconvincing 1-0 win against Australia.
A sold-out Wembley crowd watched a surprisingly hard-fought friendly between these great sporting rivals on Friday night as the hosts experimented with Euro 2024 in mind.
England can wrap up qualification against Italy on Tuesday night and Watkins boosted his chances of being on the plane to Germany with a goal and solid display.
— England (@England) October 13, 2023
The Socceroos can count themselves unlucky to leave Wembley without so much as a goal to celebrate.
Lewis Dunk’s brilliant block denied Ryan Strain ending a fine team move just before half-time and Connor Metcalfe headed off the outside of the post late in the second period.
But England rode their luck to emerge victorious as Watkins, winning his first cap since March 2022, turned in Jack Grealish’s cross-shot at the far post in the 57th minute having earlier hit a post.
The in-form Aston Villa striker will have boosted his chance of being regular back-up to captain Harry Kane, whose place on the bench meant Henderson wore the armband on Friday.
There were murmurs from the crowd when his named was read out before England’s first home game since his controversial move to Saudi Arabian side Al-Ettifaq.
That reception turned to jeers when he was replaced in the second half of a match that began with the innocent victims of the conflict in Israel and Palestine being remembered.
The Football Association was criticised by the UK government and the Jewish community in the build-up to the match for its response to recent devastating events.
The Wembley arch was not lit up on a night when both sides wore black armbands and observed a period of silence before kick-off.
Southgate made 10 alterations from last month’s friendly win in Scotland, leading to a sloppiness and disorganisation that allowed Australia to settle and threaten.
A slight touch prevented Watkins sweeping home with the first noteworthy attack of the night and Sam Johnstone soon brilliantly stopped Keanu Baccus’ curling effort going in off Fikayo Tomori.
England remained in control of first-half possession, but Australia continued to offer the greater threat.
Mitch Duke connected brilliantly with a low cross, flashing a first-time strike under pressure narrowly wide before Kye Rowles hammered over following a set-piece scramble.
England’s carelessness was summed up by James Maddison’s slip and strike out for a throw-in, but the Tottenham man showed his quality when slipping through Watkins.
The Aston Villa frontman took the ball around Mat Ryan and got away a bobbling effort from an acute angle that came back off the far post in the 34th minute.
Debutant Levi Colwill and Conor Gallagher received bookings in quick succession as a frustrating half continued, although it would have been worse was it not for Dunk – the only survivor from the side that started in Scotland.
Graham Arnold’s outfit showed skill and confidence playing out from the back, with Martin Boyle following fine hold up play by playing in Strain to get away an attempt that was blocked brilliantly by the Brighton skipper.
It was a moment Australia were made to rue in the 57th minute.
England returned from the break with more urgency and Trent Alexander-Arnold swung a ball over to the back post after an initial free-kick was cleared.
Grealish controlled and hit an attempt across goal that Watkins slid to turn home on the line – his third goal in eight England appearances.
Southgate made a quadruple change as he turned to his talent-filled bench with around 30 minutes remaining.
Henderson was among those withdrawn and Friday’s captain was booed by sections of the Wembley crowd, which he made a point of applauding as Kieran Trippier took the armband.
Baccus dragged wide as Australia tried to claw back an equaliser and Metcalfe was free to meet a corner with a powerful header off the outside of the post in the 80th minute.
Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah came on for his England debut and the visitors failed in their attempt to grab a memorable late goal.
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