An enterprising Wembley display plus new faces show that England's old guard face being over-run by challengers
The pace of change is quickening in this England side, and though Andy Carroll may not be swift in his current half-fit state, the country's most expensive home-born footballer led the way in an entertaining friendly with his first international goal. A B-team went home with an A for enterprise.
Shaky at the back they may be, but England found there is life out on the fringe. It took a World Cup debacle to show Fabio Capello that 4-4-2 belongs in history's skip. England are a 4-3-3 team now, or 4-1-4-1 when they lose the ball, and the old guard are being over-run by new challengers. Jack Wilshere is a fixture, Ashley Young will be hard to dislodge, Scott Parker has a shot at claiming the Owen Hargreaves role and Carroll has shown he can score against World Cup quarter-finalists even when cumbersome in his general play.
For Capello to warn his hot new striker to drink less beer, as he did on the eve of this match, fired us back to the 1970s, when an England manager might have been quick to advise a gifted recruit to spend less time in the pub. Carroll is a classically English package of talents and complications. Yet there is a sweeping sense that if he can bring enough of Alan Shearer's dedication to the No 9 shirt then the country has found a centre-forward to build a future around.
Capello sabotaged interest in this game by threatening to make 11 changes and then rescued it by fielding a starting XI with plenty worth looking at. The old tease was like a New Labour policy officer floating an unpopular idea in a Sunday newspaper and retreating from it when the scorn flowed.
If every friendly reached these standards there would be no moaning about rip-off Wembley. Ghana threw down the challenge by biting into early tackles and England responded eagerly, parading their new fluid formation and displaying much more energy than we have come to expect from a team of "stiffs". Young flourished in a central striking role and Carroll got off the mark on his second appearance with a left-foot finish three minutes before the interval.
The antidote to lingering English arrogance is that Capello's men were facing opponents who travelled further at last summer's World Cup than the miserablists of the Royal Bafokeng compound. Asamoah Gyan's equaliser in added time was the correct reward for a side who fielded nine of the 11 who had played 4,000 miles away in Brazzaville 48 hours earlier.
The mother country can take it as a huge compliment that visiting teams still consider winning at Wembley such a prize. Here "Football's Coming Home" is still played without irony. "Thirty years of hurt" have become 45, but the lyrics are not rewritten. Yet both the Wales and Ghana games augured well for Capello as he saw his squad for the last time before the Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland on 4 June.
Instead of a B international we had England's most expensive footballer, Carroll, and the country's best young midfield talent since Paul Scholes. While no one was looking a law appears to have been passed rendering it obligatory for Jack Wilshere to play in every game for which he is eligible: even the European Under-21 Championship this summer, when his young legs may well be falling off.
Capello sent his Champions League heavyweights home, which meant John Terry giving up the captain's armband three days after he had won it back, and Gareth Barry, who failed even to make the bench against Wales on Saturday, becoming the seventh player to hold the office under the Italian coach.
Barry, Gary Cahill, Stewart Downing, Leighton Baines and Young all earned high marks: Young peppered the Ghana goal with shots. Throw in the charmed life led by Carroll and you had the ingredients for an informative night.
"Charmed", because here is a player who cost more than Spain's David Villa and has relegated poor Peter Crouch to fifth-choice striker. Crouch scores in big Champions League ties but Carroll is so highly thought of he is picked when "half-fit" by a coach who feels the need to draw attention to his ale intake. "Not only Andy likes to drink beer," Capello said. "He needs to improve, to drink less."
For 40 minutes Carroll's inclusion looked an error, or a service to Liverpool, who need to sharpen him up so the Carroll-Luis Suárez partnership can take flight. The prospective new Shearer (on stilts) was slow off the mark and comfortably contained by Ghana's centre-halves. But when a chance dropped on 42 minutes his left foot drove firmly through the ball and his international duck was broken.
The warmth of Carroll's send-off when Defoe replaced him on 58 minutes suggests he will become a crowd favourite here at Wembley, where the audience tend to like a flawed character, unless it belongs to Ashley Cole.
Most times you come here for friendlies wondering how engaged the fringe players really are in a project that often promises much but delivers nothing. In this case there appeared genuine hunger in an England side that is changing faster than at any time in Capello's reign. Matt Jarvis and Danny Welbeck were late debutants.
Most England fans wanted change, and now they have it. It just needs to lead somewhere.