Southgate learns how much work needs to be done as England given major let-off

The biggest hug came from John Stones.

Forget social distancing, the sense of relief in the goal celebration was overwhelming for England and Stones.

Harry Maguire volleyed home an 85th minute winner but Gareth Southgate will know this was a major let-off, a night which nearly went so horribly wrong and underlines just how much work must be done before the summer.

Manchester City defender Stones’ terrible mistake gifted Poland an equaliser when his bad old habits returned, switching off, dawdling on the ball, losing possession and getting punished.

In truth, England switched off at times in the second half as there was an element of tiredness but also an element of complacency and a lack of game management.

So much for England being savvy and so much for Stones turning over a new leaf. Southgate had told his players to be more streetwise if they wanted to become one of Europe’s top nations – but they clearly did not listen.

Maguire spared Stones’ blushes

They got away with one at Wembley, it was a huge let-off and now England, with three straight wins in seven days, are halfway to next year’s World Cup already.

But no-one should kid themselves. This was an under-strength Poland team, missing their best player in Robert Lewandowski and they showed no attacking ambition at all.

It took Stones’ howler to set up the equaliser for Brighton midfielder Jakub Moder who smashed home the 58th minute equaliser which scared the life out of England.

We have been here before, of course. Poland at Wembley in qualifiers has spelt disaster in the past, just remember the clips from 1973 when the visitors forced a draw at Wembley and cost England at place at the World Cup.

This time, they overcame the setback and got the job done but it was a major scare and if Southgate was unhappy with England’s game management after their win in Albania then just imagine his mood on the touchline after Poland scored.

Southgate will know there's plenty of work to be done
Southgate will know there’s plenty of work to be done

Somehow England dug deep to find a winner when it actually looked as if all hope had gone because they had run out of gas.

But this team will know they got lucky from a position when it had looked so easy, so straightforward from the moment they took an 18th minute lead.

Raheem Sterling drove forward with a devastating run full of pace and purpose, Barnsley defender Michal Helik made a clumsy challenge and over went the England forward.

Sterling at least had listened to Southgate’s demand for his players to be more savvy and street wise, was just that. It was not a dive but it was clever. That is what the best teams and players do, like it or not.

Up stepped Harry Kane to drill home the penalty past Poland keeper Wojciech Szczesny for his 34th goal in 53 caps, another notch on the way to catching Wayne Rooney who is now only 19 ahead.

The bizarre stat of the night was that Kane has now scored for England on every day of the week. And he just cannot stop.

Poland’s equaliser was all of England’s own making. Stones dawdled on the ball, took a heavy touch and Moder nicked the ball off his toe and knocked it to substitute Arkadiusz Milik. Milk played it back to Moder who smashed it home.

England looked finished until, from nowhere, Maguire smashed home after Stones flicked on Phil Foden’s corner. Talk about getting out of jail.

This was England’s last competitive game before the Euros and, even though they got the job done in the end, Southgate will know they have a lot of work to do before the summer.

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