Sluggish England thankful for Marcus Rashford strike on return to winning ways
England ended a winless run but were far from impressive.
Marcus Rashford’s eye for goal helped England see off Switzerland with a victory that ensured the enthusiasm of a World Cup semi-final run did not descend into a record losing streak.
The feelgood factor Gareth Southgate earned in Russia this summer was dented but not ruined by Saturday’s Nations League loss to Spain, and a 1-0 friendly win at Leicester’s King Power Stadium ensured his Three Lions could end their reunion with a smile.
Rashford made it two goals in two games, and five for his country, with a close-range finish after 54 minutes but Southgate’s relief at averting the unwanted history of a fourth successive defeat will be tempered.
England failed to dominate possession against a mid-ranking visitor, coughed up soft chances and, in the presence of the watching Paul Gascoigne, conjured little of the creative spark required to drive them to fresh heights.
As promised there were widespread changes, with Foxes favourite Harry Maguire and Rashford the only survivors from the Spain game at Wembley, but none of the newcomers thrust themselves to the fore.
It did not help that some of those drafted to the cause have been bystanders in the Premier League this season, but against more clinical opponents England would surely have been staring at a half-time deficit.
England made some early running, with Fabian Delph and Danny Rose combining well for a neat sortie down the left flank, an enthusiasm that was punctured by some slack work at the back.
Goalkeeper Jack Butland, deputising for Jordan Pickford, was the guilty party as he went about reinforcing the latter’s reputation as a superior ball-player.
Having collected a back-pass he turned and inexplicably side-footed the ball across the face of his own goal.
He was spared a calamitous own goal but was in the spotlight again moments later, offering James Tarkowski an ill-judged short pass that the Burnley man allowed to run straight into the path of Mario Gavranovic.
He quickly found Liverpool’s Xherdan Shaqiri, who reeled off a first-time shot which had the beating of Butland but struck the base of the post.
England’s most frequent salvation at the World Cup was their proficiency from set-pieces and so it was a strength here, with a trio of free-kicks gaining them their only real foothold.
Eric Dier, captain for the day, dropped to his knees to head the first delivery a yard wide before the energetic Rose won a pair of decisions within shooting distance.
Neither caused major alarm, Rashford clipping over and Trent Alexander-Arnold providing Yann Sommer with an easy gather.
Almost, @ericdier! 😬— England (@England) September 11, 2018
The #ThreeLions' first chance goes to the captain, whose header flashes just wide of the Switzerland goal.
Midway through the opening 45 and it's still goalless. pic.twitter.com/oBMvT6Jnki
The Swiss were more comfortable from open play, Gavranovic hustling the England back three at every turn and working Butland at the near post after peeling off Kyle Walker.
AC Milan’s Ricardo Rodriguez was also a threat, denied once by the keeper’s feet and skimming another attempt just wide.
Having waited 15 years for the national side to visit, the fans remained supportive and earned their reward nine minutes after the interval.
For the second time in four days it was Rashford who broke the deadlock, lurking in the six-yard box and volleying home after Walker recycled an overhit corner into a sweet, hanging cross.
With a winning position now established, Southgate bolstered his side with a triple substitution.
On came Kane, John Stones and Jesse Lingard and off went Danny Welbeck, Tarkowski and Loftus-Cheek, none of whom had obviously advanced their case. Jordan Henderson was close behind, replacing a fading Delph.
Stones was the first to make an impression, throwing himself in front of a Shaqiri shot in a painful but effective intervention.
There were more changes – Leicester’s Ben Chilwell becoming the 19th debutant of the Southgate era – but less cohesion.
Switzerland had plentiful territory but could not convert it into serious pressure on Butland, allowing the hosts to hang on to a first success since their quarter-final success over Sweden in Samara.
Southgate’s journey will surely take him to Euro 2020, but how many of those on duty here make it with him is an open question.