Bukayo Saka’s cathartic goal caps celebratory Wembley return for England as Jesse Lingard makes big impression

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 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Bukayo Saka scored on his return to Wembley as England cruised past Andorra 4-0 in their first home match since the European Championship final.

The occasion felt particularly poignant for Saka, who missed England’s decisive penalty in their heartbreaking defeat to Italy, so it was fitting that he added the fourth goal in the most one-sided World Cup qualifier imaginable.

Saka, whose name received by far the loudest cheer from a 61,171-strong Wembley crowd before kick-off, was surrounded by his team-mates after heading home Jesse Lingard’s cross and if he is still carrying residual pain from his part in his country's biggest loss, this afternoon may have provided an element of catharsis.

Saka’s goal capped a celebratory occasion for England, which could scarcely have been more different in feel to their last game here 56 days ago.

A mostly young and family-heavy crowd provided a carnival atmosphere, giving England’s players the reception that Gareth Southgate felt they deserved.

There was none of the chaos or unpleasantness which marred the final, starting with respect for Andorra’s national anthem and universal applause when both sets of players took the knee, and finishing with a standing ovation at full-time.

On the pitch, it was a largely forgettable affair, with Lingard providing the spark and two goals for the wasteful hosts.

Lingard was one of the more surprising picks in Southgate’s squad for this month’s World Cup qualifying triple-header given his lack of minutes this season and uncertain place at Manchester United, but he repaid the manager’s faith with a decisive display.

The midfielder set England on their way to victory with a scuffed finish into the far corner and added a third with a well-aimed toe-poke from 18 yards after Harry Kane’s penalty had doubled the lead.

Neither goal of Lingard’s was a beauty but they were needed, as a fully-changed England squandered a host of half-chances and failed to create clear opportunities.

In the end, it was probably Saka’s afternoon but Lingard made the biggest impression. It will be intriguing to see if Southgate continues to pick him if he remains on the fringes at United.

Bamford frustrated on debut

 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

Patrick Bamford received “the best present he could have asked for” with an England debut at Wembley on his 28th birthday but his dream afternoon ended in frustration.

Bamford could really have expected to score in what was, on paper, little more than a stat-padding exercise against the minnows.

After all, there is recent history of Kane’s potential understudies scoring on their England debuts at Wembley, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Wales), Callum Wilson (USA) and Ollie Watkins (San Marino) all doing so, while Danny Ings found the net on his first start against the Welsh.

Bamford, though, was largely starved of service in an uninspiring England display. He was restricted to half-chances but blew his big opportunity, firing over the bar at the start of the second half after Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross caused havoc in the box.

The Leeds striker was, at least, involved in creating opportunities for team-mates, including a couple of passes in behind to release Lingard and a nod down for Conor Coady, who acrobatically fired a scissor-kick over the bar.

Ultimately, though, Bamford will surely view his debut as an opportunity missed. He was hooked for Kane on the hour and the England captain will return to the XI for Wednesday’s match in Warsaw.

Bamford’s next realistic opportunity for meaningful minutes may come in the reverse fixture in Andorra next month.

But there is no guarantee that he will still be in the squad by then, with Calvert-Lewin, Watkins, Ings and perhaps Tammy Abraham likely to provide fierce competition for places.

England have a star in Bellingham

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Alexander-Arnold’s move to midfield underlined Southgate’s desire for new options in the middle of the park after England’s familiar possession problem against Italy.

The visit of Andorra – ranked 156th in the world – was never going to provide a definitive answer about the Liverpool full-back’s readiness to move forward but the match did suggest Southgate already has a midfield maestro at his disposal in Jude Bellingham.

The teenager ran the show in another performance of skill, poise and control that belied his years. He was crucial in setting England on the way to victory with a lovely drag-back in the build-up to Lingard’s goal, and was at the heart of practically all of their chances.

It should not be forgotten that his commanding display came days after he was racially abused during the win in Hungary.

It was only Andorra, and Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips earned Southgate’s trust at the Euros, but the time is coming for Bellingham to take his place as the heartbeat of this England team. Barring injury or catastrophe, he will surely be Southgate’s lynchpin in Qatar in 15 months’ time.

Alexander-Arnold, meanwhile, showed flashes of quality in midfield, including a trademark raking pass to Bellingham, but the experiment was abandoned at half-time.

For the second half, Alexander-Arnold moved to right-back with Reece James switching to holding midfield, as Southgate took the chance to experiment.

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