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Southgate makes winning start with England

Dele Alli

Dele Alli scored the second goal of his England career on Saturday, putting the hosts 2-0 up in the process

Gareth Southgate started his reign as England’s interim manager with a comfortable win against minnows Malta at Wembley.

Southgate – in charge for four games following Sam Allardyce’s departure after the single World Cup qualifying win in Slovakia – had an untroubled opening as England easily overcame a Malta side only focused on damage limitation.

Daniel Sturridge’s clever header from Jordan Henderson’s cross opened the scoring after 29 minutes and any notion this would be a contest against the side ranked 176th by Fifa ended when Dele Alli scrambled home a second before half-time.

Only Malta’s heroic goalkeeper Andrew Hogg stood between England and further goals, making fine saves from Alli, Wayne Rooney, Theo Walcott and debutant Jesse Lingard as the hosts made it maximum points from two qualifiers.

Relive the action from Wembley

Were Southgate’s England brave?

Southgate’s pre-match mantra was that he wanted his England side to be brave, casting aside the shackles that have restricted them before.

It was a message that was applicable to Southgate’s approach in general rather than this specific fixture – it was competence not courage that was required to win with ease on Saturday.

There was a touch of conservatism about Southgate’s own selection as he ignored the claims of Manchester United’s precocious teenager Marcus Rashford to go with Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge and Rashford’s Old Trafford team-mate Lingard in attack.

Sturridge was on target while Lingard was bright enough without dazzling, almost scoring with a first-half header and making a good run to set up Walcott in the second half, so that selection was justified.

England were progressive and positive enough to get the job done – but proof of bravery will come on nights other than this one.

How did Rooney fare?

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Playing in midfield, England captain Rooney had 177 touches of the ball, but none came in the opposition penalty area (direction of play is up in graphic)

Once again Rooney was the hot topic of conversation in the build-up to this game. Was he worth his place in England’s team under the latest regime after the controversy of his “play anywhere” performance in Allardyce’s only game, the win in Slovakia?

Southgate had no hesitation in both retaining him as captain and also playing him from the start against Malta.

But the question of Rooney’s long-term future cannot be answered against opposition like the lowly Maltese and with unconvincing performances like this.

Rooney played in a deep midfield role, often almost England’s deepest player in the opening half, and his display consisted mainly of passes spread wide and the occasional shot – surges forward into the danger area that were once his trademark were conspicuous by their absence.

He did force two fine saves from Hogg but this was almost like a run-out for Rooney and he produced nothing to banish the doubts about his place in England’s long-term plans.

His night could also have been a lot worse, as he was lucky to escape a booking for a bad foul in the first half.

Southgate’s signpost to the future?

Southgate will be delighted with the win. It could have been more convincing in all respects but he will regard it as job done.

England were never going to be in danger against a side of such limited options and talents – so more might emerge on his game plan and approach away to Slovenia on Tuesday.

Scotland are the next visitors to Wembley on 11 November. That is shaping up as the game that could make or break Southgate’s hopes of landing the England job on a full-time basis.

Man of the match – Jordan Henderson (England)

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Henderson completed 165 passes for England – five more than the 160 Malta achieved collectively

What next?

England travel to face Slovenia on Tuesday (kick-off 19:45 BST), looking to maintain their 100% record in Group F.

The stats you need to know:

  • England have won their last 14 qualifying games, and are unbeaten in their last 31 qualifiers overall (won 24, drawn 7)
  • The Three Lions have kept a clean sheet in each of their last six qualifiers
  • England completed 832 passes against Malta; 672 more than their opponents
  • Daniel Sturridge scored his first goal at Wembley for England since May 2014 (the opener in a 3-0 win against Peru)
  • England have had 87 shots (including blocks) over their last four international games, scoring four goals in the process
  • Both of Dele Alli’s goals for England have come at Wembley (against France and now Malta)

Live Text

Match ends, England 2, Malta 0.

Second Half ends, England 2, Malta 0.

Attempt missed. Wayne Rooney (England) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the left. Assisted by Marcus Rashford.

Substitution, Malta. Rowen Muscat replaces André Schembri.

Attempt missed. Dele Alli (England) right footed shot from the centre of the box is too high. Assisted by Marcus Rashford with a cross.

Corner, England. Conceded by Gareth Sciberras.

Corner, England. Conceded by Andrei Agius.

Corner, Malta. Conceded by Joe Hart.

Attempt saved. Andrei Agius (Malta) right footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Paul Fenech.

Foul by Gary Cahill (England).

Michael Mifsud (Malta) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

Foul by Marcus Rashford (England).

Steve Borg (Malta) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Substitution, Malta. Michael Mifsud replaces Alfred Effiong.

Attempt blocked. Wayne Rooney (England) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked.

Substitution, England. Jamie Vardy replaces Daniel Sturridge.

Attempt missed. Jesse Lingard (England) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Wayne Rooney following a set piece situation.

Dele Alli (England) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

Foul by Gareth Sciberras (Malta).

Substitution, England. Marcus Rashford replaces Theo Walcott.

Foul by Dele Alli (England).

André Schembri (Malta) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Offside, England. Jesse Lingard tries a through ball, but Danny Rose is caught offside.

Corner, England. Conceded by Andrew Hogg.

Attempt saved. Theo Walcott (England) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal.

Foul by John Stones (England).

Alfred Effiong (Malta) wins a free kick in the attacking half.

Offside, England. Daniel Sturridge tries a through ball, but Theo Walcott is caught offside.

Steve Borg (Malta) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

Jesse Lingard (England) wins a free kick on the left wing.

Foul by Steve Borg (Malta).

Corner, England. Conceded by Andrew Hogg.

Attempt saved. Wayne Rooney (England) right footed shot from long range on the left is saved in the top right corner.

Hand ball by Paul Fenech (Malta).

Corner, England. Conceded by Andrei Agius.

Danny Rose (England) wins a free kick on the left wing.

Foul by Bjorn Kristensen (Malta).

Theo Walcott (England) wins a free kick in the defensive half.

Foul by Alex Muscat (Malta).

Second Half begins England 2, Malta 0.