England 2-0 Estonia: five talking points from Wembley

Theo Walcott dazzled, Harry Kane deserved more for his industry and another injury absence for Michael Carrick may mean a Euro 2016 finals question mark

1) Enthusiasm remains for the national team

The general impression whenever talk drifts to the England team can be of a nation uninspired. Perhaps years of underachievement have fuelled cynicism. Maybe another perceived doddle of a qualification campaign – England are the only team in Europe with a perfect record – has sapped interest, with the rude awakening of the tournament to come. Where was the challenge in reaching France? Qualification was expected, whereas the joyous bedlam at Windsor Park on Thursday sparked by the success of Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland reflected proper achievement. Yet, in truth, England’s support remains remarkable. More than 80,000 tickets had been sold for what was essentially a meaningless game at Wembley and, while not all appeared to have taken up their option, with banks of empty seats made brutally obvious in a vast arena, this was still an impressive attendance of 75,427. Enthusiasm remains.

2) Walcott dazzled but Kane deserved more

Wayne Rooney’s involvement here had been limited to the collection of his golden boot from Sir Bobby Charlton before kick-off, with Harry Kane given a first competitive start in the captain’s stead. The Tottenham Hotspur forward, a scorer in each of the qualifiers last month, worked tirelessly, muscling his way between Estonian defenders and feeding those around him. His industry is as much an asset as his bite, even if he would have craved a goal of his own, with this an evening when his glimpses of goal were brief. Instead it was Theo Walcott who provided the pizzazz. His crunched early volley set the tone, his finish from Ross Barkley’s pass on half-time that of a man who is thriving up front for his club at present. This was a timely reminder of his ability. England will hope to have Daniel Sturridge back next month against Spain and France, when Rooney should also be fit. There are options available for Roy Hodgson to explore.

3) What of Barkley and Bertrand?

Of the others seeking to cement involvement here, the focus was drawn to the two Bs. Ryan Bertrand has an opportunity, given the desperate injury that has stalled Luke Shaw’s involvement, and his galloping upfield in support of Raheem Sterling served notice of an attacking threat. Better teams than Estonia would test his defensive prowess. Barkley may have begun nervously, perhaps trying too hard with one sloppy pass surrendering possession to Sergei Zenjov and infuriating Hodgson, but he quickly realised he could dominate and ended up as the ‘find’ of the night. There was a swagger to his play, hovering on the periphery of midfield and timing his runs cutely. His jaw-dropping pass for Walcott’s opener, nutmegging Karol Mets in the process, betrayed a wonderful talent with his swerves between markers a delight. England should accept the occasional mistake in the knowledge this is a player who can conjure such moments.

4) Can Hodgson rely on Carrick?

This was a familiar story for the Manchester United midfielder. Michael Carrick had complained of tightness in his groin on Thursday and had sat out training at St George’s Park. Hodgson hoped the rest might allow him to feature here but it was clear on the day of the game that the 34-year-old, such a classy performer when fit, should not be risked either at Wembley or in Vilnius. That was his sixth withdrawal from a Hodgson squad, Carrick having managed only 132 minutes of action in two years. On the basis that Jack Wilshere, if available himself, is the manager’s first choice for the quarter-back, deep-lying midfield role and Jonjo Shelvey or James Milner would readily deputise, one has to wonder if taking Carrick to France, with his propensity to succumb to these niggling groin problems, is actually worthwhile.

5) They should experiment in Vilnius

Hodgson had made clear that, if these two games were to be occasions to experiment, then he would reserve the bulk of the tweaks for Vilnius – with Carrick, Gary Cahill, Rooney, Joe Hart and James Milner not travelling. That is where Dele Alli might be offered more game time, Jamie Vardy presented with another platform upon which to replicate recent prolific club form or Danny Ings given a chance to impress on his debut. Jack Butland will be rewarded for his excellent displays for Stoke City, while Kane should probably benefit from another opportunity to lead the line. England should be planning for a future around the Spurs forward Kane, after all. All of which makes that fixture slightly more relevant than it might otherwise have been as Hodgson’s team seek their perfect 10 before the trickier friendlies ahead.