areth Southgate will surely not have minded the processional nature of this friendly given the unforgiving schedule and increased scrutiny from club managers but a 3-0 win over the Republic of Ireland offered few real lessons for the England boss.
England cruised to victory at Wembley thanks to goals from Harry Maguire, Jadon Sancho and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and Southgate was able to make a raft of second-half changes, including a debut for 17-year-old Jude Bellingham.
Despite a hesitant start, England never looked back after Maguire broke the deadlock with an 18th-minute header and completely controlled the match, restricting Ireland to two shots on goal which were easily saved by half-time substitute Dean Henderson.
In spite of the lack of big takeaways for Southgate, this still felt like a useful night as a number of his squad drew a line under recent difficulties with positive performances.
Perhaps most notably, Maguire put his red card in England’s last match against Denmark behind him and offered evidence he is moving on from his own difficult personal spell with a fine header to open the scoring.
The Manchester United defender, who was captaining England in the absence of unused substitute Harry Kane, rose above Shane Duffy to head Harry Winks‘ cross home and could easily have finished the night with a hat-trick, as he dominated Ireland in the air.
Phil Foden, a second half substitute, will also have seen the night as an opportunity to put recent difficulties in the past by making his first appearance since being sent home in disgrace, having breached the squad’s bio-secure bubble in Iceland in September.
There was also the spectacle of Jack Grealish and Mason Mount impressing in the same XI – in very different roles – perhaps helping to dampen the speculation that they cannot play together in an England team.
Sancho, meanwhile, answered his critics in Germany following a slow start to the Bundesliga season with Borussia Dortmund.
The winger doubled England’s lead with a fine display of quick feet and a neat finish after half-an-hour. It will be a much-needed confidence boost for the 20-year-old, whose dip in form domestically has resulted in fierce criticism on the continent.
England dropped the pace in the second half as Southgate rang the changes, including a bright cameo for Sancho’s Dortmund teammate Bellingham, but Dominic Calvert-Lewin added a third from the penalty spot after Bukayo Saka was fouled.
Jack Grealish picked up where he left off in an England shirt, following his sublime performance in last month’s friendly against Wales with another eye-catching display at the national stadium.
Southgate surely cannot ignore Grealish in competitive internationals any longer and the Aston Villa playmaker can feel aggrieved if he does not start Sunday’s crucial Nations League fixture against Belgium.
Southgate had said Grealish’s improving end product was the main reason he has forced his way into the England squad and the 25-year-old finished the game with an assist for Sancho.
It was by no means his best pass of the night and, if anything, he was too unselfish in the final third, frequently looking to find a teammate from dangerous positions.
He was a magnet for the ball against the country from which he switched allegiance, drifting between the lines to cause problems for Ireland as England beat their neighbours for the first time in 35 years.
He was replaced by Foden after an hour, suggesting Southgate is, rightly, planning to save him for next week’s more important tests.
Harry Winks is in a curious position.
At Tottenham, he is down the pecking order and has played the majority of his football this season in the Europa League.
But for England, Winks has a very real possibility of starting next summer at the heart of Gareth Southgate’s midfield.
There’s not much between Southgate’s midfielders and Winks’s ability to retain possession and recycle the ball quickly are qualities that England have missed in major tournaments.
If Winks continues as a bit-part player at Spurs, he needs to make the most of his England opportunities before the Euros and he did his chances no harm against the Irish.
His cross for Harry Maguire’s goal was weighted just right to unsettle goalkeeper Darren Randolph and he was pleasingly positive in possession – neat and tidy but always on the lookout for a quick forward pass.
Winks ultimately feels more at home with England’s patient build-up than Spurs’ rapid counter-attacking but his international hopes may ultimately rest on his opportunities at club level.