ukayo Saka scored his first senior international goal as England kicked off their Euro 2020 warm-up friendly double-header with a 1-0 win over Austria at the Riverside Stadium – though the result was overshadowed by an injury to Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Arsenal star Saka finished from a tight angle off a rapid counter-attack in the second half as a makeshift lineup from Gareth Southgate secured a victory which was harder work than the Three Lions manager would have liked.
Meanwhile, Alexander-Arnold appeared to pick up a leg muscle injury while innocently clearing a ball upfield, with the Liverpool right-back forced to limp off around the side of the pitch to leave his chances of a Euros place in serious doubt.
After a furore around his inclusion, Alexander-Arnold started at right-back. Kieran Trippier, another of the four right-backs in Southgate’s squad, shifted across to left-back as Tyrone Mings and Conor Coady started as the central defensive duo. Jude Bellingham was handed his first senior start at the age of 17, while Saka also came into the team.
There were starts for Jack Grealish, whose timely return to fitness at the end of the season presented him with a chance to stake his claim for a place in Southgate’s side at the Euros, and Jesse Lingard – who missed out on a place in the 26-man squad for the finals.
The team for the European Championship opener against Croatia is likely to be markedly different as Southgate was unable to call on players from Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United following their European finals last week.
After renditions of ‘Football’s Coming Home’ and the national anthems, there were audible jeers as the players took the knee before kick-off – the first time an England side have made the anti-racism gesture in front of a home crowd.
It was soon drowned out by cheers but Southgate and his players will hope the immediate reaction does not follow the team throughout the finals.
England dominated the opening half an hour of action as Alexander-Arnold and Bellingham had good early chances, while Saka fired over the crossbar when well-placed.
Captain Harry Kane also drew a smart save out of Watford goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann, making his debut for Austria.
That was as good as it got in a fairly laboured first half, with neither sideable to find a breakthrough before the interval.
The deadlock would eventually be broken shortly before the hour mark as Saka scored his first England goal.
Kane swept a cross along the box into Lingard, whose touch towards Grealish was dealt with by the Austria defence only for the ball to break to Saka – the Arsenal winger making no mistake in turning into an empty net from a tight angle.
Southgate made a host of changes in the aftermath of Saka’s goal as Ben Godfreyand Ben White came off the bench to make their England debuts. Godfrey’s Everton team-mate Dominic Calvert-Lewin was another to come on and heshould have done better when set in behind by a slide rule Saka pass,overrunning the ball before flashing in a cross which was cleared.
As Engand looked to see out the game, Alexander-Arnold pulled up while clearing the ball upfield in what appeared to be a possible left hamstring injury – and that will be the chief concern to Southgate in the run-up to the Euros.
Additional reporting by PA.