England huff and puff to eventually see off Nigeria
Southgate’s side made hard work of win in final Wembley outing before the World Cup
England’s Harry Kane celebrates scoring his side’s second goal in their pre-World Cup friendly against Nigeria. Photo: Tom Goode/Getty Images
England 2 Nigeria 1
England took the lead inside seven minutes courtesy of Gary Cahill’s headed effort and Kane doubled the advantage before the break, when modest goalkeeping allowed him to hit the net for the sixth time in five appearances with the armband.
But what might have turned into a walk in the park against a side ranked 47th in the world became a tense 2-1 victory as Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi struck less than two minutes into the second half, robbing the hosts of their composure.
Southgate will take some heart from the fact England held out but with 16 days to go before their Group G opener against Tunisia, and one more tune-up to come against Costa Rica in Leeds on Thursday, this was an incomplete performance which did little to inspire true confidence.
Jordan Pickford’s appearance in a near full-strength starting XI suggested he will travel as number one ahead of Jack Butland, while Kieran Trippier hinted his dead ball skills could be a secret weapon in Russia — but Southgate’s concerns may now be over his creative axis.
As for Raheem Sterling, a difficult week of negative headlines ended with a bright showing that lacked end product as well as a booking for simulation.
England imposed themselves early, Alli winning a free-kick in dangerous territory. Trippier tried his luck and struck his shot cleanly, winning a corner when Francis Uzoho parried the ball wide.
Trippier was again on dead ball duties and his outswinging effort was met powerfully by Cahill, who outleaped William Troost-Ekong to head home his fifth England goal.
As well as easing any collective nerves, it was a satisfying moment for the veteran of the squad — who was axed by Southgate as recently as March and had been sweating over his place on the plane.
England had chances to double up as their guests adjusted slowly to the pace of the game. Uzoho reacted nervously when John Stones glanced a header at his feet and Brian Idowu produced a brave, last-ditch lunge to deny Ashley Young.
There were hints of sloppiness, Lingard and Stones both offering up possession with slack passes which may have been punished by more clinical teams.
As it was they were allowed to go in search of a second, with Sterling heavily involved.
Playing on the shoulder of the last man he raced free in the left channel and tried to dink the advancing keeper, only for his effort to skip wide of the far post.
The Manchester City man took the selfless option when he next found space — but his execution was lacking and Uzoho smothered his cross.
Sterling was eager, maybe overly so, to make his mark and lashed a rising effort over the bar after Alli held up Eric Dier’s long-range pass.
Kane, on the other hand, had barely had a sight of goal until he tried his luck from outside the area.
It was hardly one of his most fearsome strikes but it snaked between Troost-Ekong’s legs and had enough on it to beat Uzoho’s flimsy glovework.
Nigeria made four changes at the break and came out with a tempo that had been sorely lacking previously.
Within two minutes they were back in the game. Odion Ighalo controlled an aerial pass and turned to whip his shot against the post, with the ricochet landing invitingly for Iwobi. Having attacked the space better than the nearest white shirts he rifled home and celebrated passionately.
The strong away contingent did likewise and instantly England’s gentle workout became a contest with live stakes again.
Sterling’s reaction was to look for penalty when played in by Lingard, but he was guilty of a clear dive as he flicked the ball past the goalkeeper and can have little complaint over his booking.
England appeared rattled. Southgate summoned Lingard for a touchline chat and moments later Kane, Sterling and Alli were chatting animatedly on halfway.