England's first match since Euro 2012 did not quite amount to a brave new world but they can at least reflect on a satisfying evening's work. Their debutants should be better for the experience and Roy Hodgson's team, experimenting with a new formation, are entitled to enjoy beating the nation that had outplayed them in the Euro 2012 quarter-final.

This was a far more gentle workout against what was, in essence, an Italy B team, but England recovered well once Daniele de Rossi's goal, after a quarter of an hour, had threatened another ordeal. Phil Jagielka equalised after 27 minutes, emulating De Rossi with a header straight from a corner, and England won the match with a wonderful strike from Jermain Defoe, one of their six substitutes.

Another, Ryan Bertrand, had stopped England from going behind with a goal-line clearance only seconds before and this was a good night for the players winning their first caps. Tom Cleverley coped ably after going straight into the starting line-up, and Jack Butland is now the youngest goalkeeper in England's history, beating a record that had lasted 124 years. Butland started the match, suggesting he is now officially Joe Hart's understudy, before John Ruddy replaced him at the interval. Within 10 minutes, Ruddy had made the outstanding save of the match, in a second half also notable for Jake Livermore's debut.

An international friendly three days before the start of the new Premier League season is never going to be remembered with any great fondness, particularly one that is staged in a two-thirds empty stadium in Switzerland. But there was certainly more good than bad, even if it is still a work in progress. If nothing else, it is encouraging that Hodgson is willing to move away from the 4-4-2 formation that he favoured in Euro 2012 and that has been the cornerstone for most of his managerial career.

England have taken their time catching up with most of the successful teams in Europe and the 4-2-3-1 system has brought them their first victory over Italy in 15 years. Hodgson started with Frank Lampard and Michael Carrick as deep-lying midfielders, collecting the ball from the defence and setting the tempo.

Cleverley was in a more advanced position, with Ashley Young and Adam Johnson coming in from wide positions to support Andy Carroll as the spearhead of attack. Carroll had a disappointing 45 minutes before his withdrawal at half-time and James Milner, a substitute, was more penetrative in wide positions than either Johnson or Young. Yet there were some good performances, too. Lampard's was an impressive riposte for those who have suggested it is a retrograde step to bring the 34-year-old back into the team. Carrick's return ended with him wearing the captain's armband and Defoe was sharp and confident after replacing Carroll, scoring with a peach of a strike.

At least this time it was not an object lesson in how to pass the ball, as had been witnessed when these sides met in Kiev seven and a half weeks ago. England, however, had a difficult opening 25 minutes. De Rossi's header was a soft goal to concede, and an unimpressive start from Carrick given that he was the player who was out-jumped in the process.

Carrick's return to the team, after a two-year absence, was designed so England could start taking better care of the ball, rather than because of his ability to make clearing headers inside his own penalty area. All the same, it is part of a midfielder's job to do the muck-and-nettles stuff and Carrick, who is taller than De Rossi, will not enjoy the replays of what happened after Alessandro Diamanti's corner.

Italy will have similar complaints about Jagielka's goal but the Everton defender deserves a lot of credit for the way he attacked the ball and read the trajectory of Lampard's corner. Jagielka was simply quicker and more decisive than his nearest opponent, Federico Balzaretti, throwing himself at the ball to flash a diving header past Salvatore Sirigu, playing instead of Gianluigi Buffon in Italy's goal.

The second half featured more chances, even if there were times when the frequency with which both teams made substitutes interrupted the flow.

Italy began well, Ruddy diving to his right to block Mattia Destro's low shot splendidly, followed shortly afterwards by Federico Peluso shooting into the side-netting.

For the most part though, it was an evenly contested game played at times with the feel of the pre-season encounter that it was. Carrick looked nice on the ball, as he always does, even if Lampard was more influential. If there was a criticism, it was that England might have carried more threat going forwards if Kyle Walker and Leighton Baines had been more willing to break forward from their full-back positions, as they do for their clubs.

Before anyone gets too carried away, it should also be noted this was an Italy side featuring eight debutants, two starting the match and another half a dozen coming on from the bench. England do deserve credit, though, for not letting the game drift to an uneventful conclusion.

Shortly before the winning goal, another of the substitutes, Joleon Lescott, bundled Milner's cross against the post from almost point-blank range but could not turn in the rebound. Bertrand then headed out Manolo Gabbiadini's goalbound effort and, moments later, the ball was at Defoe's feet. The striker's turn gave him a yard on the nearest opponent, Ignazio Abate, and his diagonal shot from 25 yards went into the top corner, via Sirigu's fingertips.