It was an England win that guaranteed top place in the group but if one moment summed up their uncoordinated night at Wembley it was the body slam by Trent Alexander-Arnold on Marcus Rashford just before the hour mark. As a piece of sporting theatre it was more WWF than the beautiful game.
Alexander-Arnold, haring after a ball he had miscontrolled, clattered full steam into Rashford who, after lengthy treatment, went off immediately afterwards, looking thoroughly sorry for himself.
That was England too often last night – in the wrong place at the wrong time.
For Alexander-Arnold, trying – too hard maybe – to push his case for a more permanent starting role in the England midfield it was a frustrating evening.
He wasn’t England’s worst player – not by a long way – he provided two of England’s measly three shots on target but he could not put his stamp on the match against the Maltese minnows.
Alexander-Arnold’s problem in the first half was that he was operating in a midfield which was visibly disjointed.
The unfamiliarity of a trio that also featured Jordan Henderson and Conor Gallagher was all too obvious leaving England a creative void.
Hooker Gallagher, who had reported into camp at the start of the week with a minor injury, improved things somewhat with Phil Foden pulled back into the midfield. Introducing Declan Rice later brought more cohesion
But still England looked like strangers at times.
This was a frustration both for the 81,000 at Wembley and for Alexander-Arnold.
Not even an inviting free-kick opportunity went his way, as the Liverpool star curled his shot over the bar.
He started well with a defence-splitting pass to Marcus Rashford but then found himself on the wrong end of some rough stuff from the Maltese.
He was fouled three times in the first ten minutes including one tackle from Kemar Reid that upended him and left him needing running repairs just after England had taken the lead.
There were other glimpses of what he could offer including a trademark crossfield ball to Harry Kane but when the ball did fall his way six minutes before the break he put England’s meaningful only shot of the half well over the bar.
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His other two long-range efforts in the second half were on the money but Henry Bonello in the Malta goal was equal to them.
The reality is that there is one midfield spot for the Euros finals up for grabs beside Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice.
Hopefully he is given another chance because he does have something to offer in the position but Alexander-Arnold did not do enough last night to nail it down.
The highlight of the evening happened before kick-off with a poignant tribute to Sir Bobby Charlton before kick-off.
The big screen montage of his England career highlights, played out with the stadium lights dimmed, was classily done and appreciated loudly by the crowd.
Unfortunately the live football that followed for them was distinctly mediocre.
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