Roy Hodgson had a simple message for his players before the game against Poland: more of the same, lads. In the victory over Montenegro, England threatened mainly down the flanks through Andros Townsend's direct runs and Leighton Baines's dangerous crosses, and both were again prominent during the win on Tuesday.

The duo had a slightly different task against stronger opposition who offered a significant counterattacking threat. With Kyle Walker suspended, Townsend was unable to depend on constant overlapping runs. The makeshift right-back, Chris Smalling, was much more reluctant to get forward. Townsend was frequently faced with two or three opponents, with Poland's left-sided central midfielder, Mariusz Lewandowski, particularly attentive in closing down the Tottenham winger.

But Townsend exploited the space ahead of him when possible, and constantly varied his positioning, curling an excellent left-foot shot on to the crossbar from a central position midway through the first half.

Baines faced an excellent opponent in Poland's right-sided midfielder, Jakub Blaszczykowski, but his tendency to make runs into central positions allowed the Everton left-back space to get forward and cross. However, Baines needed to be particularly disciplined with his forward runs. Midway through the first half, for example, he charged upfield when attempting to reach a long diagonal pass from Gary Cahill, but it was intercepted and Blaszczykowski countered strongly. England's defence were dragged across to cover, and eventually Waldemar Sobota had a chance from the opposite flank, shooting into the side-netting.

Blaszczykowski continually made darting diagonal runs across the heart of the England defence; at one point his movement dragged Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill out of position.

When moves broke down, however, it meant Baines had space to break into and he continually provided England's out-ball in the final third, arriving late with the entire flank to himself.

After eight minutes Baines found space for the first time when Blaszczykowski was in a narrow position, sending in a cross that was pinched off the toe of Danny Welbeck at the near post. Something similar happened after half an hour – he stormed forward after patient build-up play to provide a low ball that almost reached Daniel Sturridge.

Those moves served as Poland's warnings: on 41 minutes Blaszczykowski was again too far from Baines, allowing him to deliver a perfect curled cross, nodded home by Wayne Rooney. That goal showed the virtue in Hodgson fielding Welbeck, Rooney and Sturridge in the same side – all three were on the edge of the six-yard box, between the posts, waiting to provide the finish.

At 1-0, England never seemed entirely comfortable, and were unsure whether they were attempting to keep the tempo of the game high and search for a second goal, or trying to retain possession to shut down the match. Hodgson's decision to replace Michael Carrick with Frank Lampard was extremely surprising – the Manchester United midfielder was not at his best, but at least he was keeping his position in front of the defence. The eternally frustrating Lampard-Gerrard combination was not together long before England looked vulnerable between the lines, at a time when Hodgson simply needed his central midfielders to sit 10 yards ahead of the centre-backs. Both were guilty of poor passes and unnecessary fouls in their 20 minutes together, and questions remain about Hodgson's use of the bench.

Nevertheless, the England manager has made some fine decisions this week. The only lingering caveat is the fact Townsend and Baines were playing only because of injury to the team's more established options. Theo Walcott and Ashley Cole will be confident of regaining their places in Hodgson's starting XI, but this week England did not remotely miss either.