After a week dominated by discussion of Raheem Sterling, the Manchester City winger watched England book their place at Euro 2020.
Harry Kane hit a first-half hat-trick as England secured their qualification for Euro 2020 with a 7-0 win over Montenegro, moving on from the Raheem Sterling-Joe Gomez saga in emphatic fashion in their 1000th match.
The build-up to the Three Lions’ milestone fixture had been marred by a confrontation between team-mates Sterling and Gomez, resulting in the Manchester City winger being dropped for Thursday’s game.
But against poor opponents at Wembley, England’s tough week behind the scenes looked to have been forgotten momentarily.
Needing only a point to qualify, victory secured top spot in Group A as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kane, Marcus Rashford and Tammy Abraham were on target, along with an own goal in front of watching England heroes past and, in Sterling’s case, present.
game celebrations pic.twitter.com/ogLhUMHhuK
— England (@England) November 14, 2019
However, a reminder of a testing few days came in the form of a mixed reaction for Liverpool defender Gomez on his introduction from the bench late on, even as Sterling applauded his colleague from the stands.
While Gomez started on the bench, John Stones and Harry Maguire – the preferred centre-backs – were scarcely engaged in a defensive sense as Gareth Southgate’s side quickly took control.
The opener arrived after just 11 minutes as Ben Chilwell picked out Oxlade-Chamberlain to rifle low into the net from the right side of the box, marking his first international start since March 2018 in style.
Chilwell was again the provider as Kane nodded in a left-wing free-kick to double England’s lead, and the same two soon combined once more as the captain was left unmarked from a corner to head home.
Maguire headed straight at Milan Mijatovic but Rashford smashed in the rebound, before Kane controlled a deflected Trent Alexander-Arnold cross and slotted in his third and the hosts’ fifth.
Mason Mount was denied his first England goal by an offside flag early in the second half, and the Chelsea man’s blushes were spared on 66 minutes when he mistimed a close-range volley and Aleksandar Sofranac hacked the wayward shot in off the crossbar for an own goal.
There was still time for substitute Abraham to open his international account, squeezing an effort under Mijatovic from Jadon Sancho’s cutback to cap the scoring.
What does it mean? Respite for Southgate on landmark night
Southgate, who made the bold call to leave Sterling out, would have been delighted to get back to on-field matters. It was always highly unlikely Montenegro – beaten 5-1 in the reverse fixture – would stall England’s progress, but a clinical display meant this most straightforward of tasks could be celebrated in a fashion befitting the assembled greats in the stands.
Kane’s tally keeps growing
Tottenham‘s struggles have weighed heavy on stand-in club skipper Kane in recent weeks, but his England record is remarkable, even considering the accommodating opponents here. The striker is now outright sixth on the all-time England goals list with 31 – passing the likes of Alan Shearer and Frank Lampard – and became the first player to score hat-tricks in consecutive Wembley appearances for the Three Lions.
37 – This is the earliest England have scored five goals in a game since November 1946, when they scored five in the opening 35 minutes in a friendly against the Netherlands. Rationing. #England1000 https://t.co/bjCP7kFPkE
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 14, 2019
Still gaps at the back
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As has been the theme in recent outings, England were ruthless in attack but open at the back. Jordan Pickford was required to make good stops from Marko Simic and Fatos Beqiraj in the first half as Southgate still searches for a primary centre-back partnership.
England will be glad to have wrapped up qualification before Sunday’s match against Kosovo, who caused Southgate’s men problems at St Mary’s Stadium in September. Montenegro have now concluded a winless qualification campaign and play Belarus in a friendly on Tuesday.