Daniel Sturridge's injury prevents there being an answer to England's nagging question: where have all the strikers gone?
Roy Hodgson will no doubt have learnt a few valuable things from this match which, for all its meandering lack of craft, remained a high-intensity affair – as meaningless close-season friendlies go – deep into the second half. In one area though, England are still struggling to find any answers. Where have all the strikers gone?
With Wayne Rooney producing another mixed contribution, Hodgson is no closer to finding a convincing partner for England's seasoned schemer after a night on which Daniel Sturridge twinkled briefly, and England again looked vague and heavy-legged in attack.
For all its lowly status as an appetiser for England's Brazilian away-day on Sunday, there was as ever a sense of a jiggling of the pieces to be enacted at Wembley, of opportunities for those on the edge of what always feels these days a little like an England squad contrived on the hoof.
The absence of Hodgson's two prime central midfielders, Steven Gerrard and Jack Wilshere, gave an opportunity to Michael Carrick, under-used down the years in a team that suffers above all from overlooking the importance of that central player, the ball. Here Carrick was his usual model of strolling good sense, not so much catching the eye as repeatedly cropping up in the peripheral vision, tactfully funnelling the ball in the direction of a white shirt and displaying his peculiar sixth sense for interception.
Mainly, though, this was an opportunity for one of England's strikers to stake a claim for a spot alongside the incumbent -– and frankly, as things are, undroppable – creative ferret Rooney.
It is hard to remember an England team with such an obvious sense of a vacancy in attack, despite a variety of eagerly circulating candidates. If good teams are often described as being "full of goals", this England team were not so much empty as janglingly unbalanced, the goal tally among the front six at kick off reading: Rooney and Frank Lampard 63; everyone else six.
This is testimony to both a recent shift of personnel and – it must be said – a basic lack of quality. And yet in Sturridge, given his first start after five caps under three different managers, Hodgson was able to field that rare thing, an English goalscorer in a rich vein of form, and a player who was England's best attacker for the half hour he managed to stay on the pitch.
Sturridge started just ahead of Rooney – playing in his favoured No10 role, part occasional creative force, part slightly scattergun midfield intruder. The Liverpool player likes to come deep to link play too, as he did with his major contribution to this match, leading the fightback after Shane Long's brilliant headed goal had made it 1-0 to Ireland after 15 minutes. Picking up the ball on the left wing, Sturridge worked some space with a groovy little drop of the shoulder and crossed for Frank Lampard to smuggle the ball home with familiar sense of craft amid the ricochets.
For a while Sturridge was encouragingly lively: a player whose selection owed something to absence and injury; and who could even now be held up as something of a poster boy for the damaging effects on England's fortunes of billionairism and the Premier League's own disdain for nurturing domestic talent. Shuffled from club to club as a bench-filling asset, disorientated by endless managerial change, and required to maintain his sense of focus despite the brain-mangling riches funnelled his way, at Liverpool Sturridge has finally found a team who cannot afford to pay him and not play him. It was frustrating to see him carried off on a stretcher after a heavy tackle by Glenn Whelan, putting an end to promising beginnings and ruling him out of the trip to Brazil.
Jermain Defoe came on to partner Rooney as a more advanced centre forward, and contributed very little in his hour on the pitch. Defoe remains a source frustration too, a debutant nine years ago and the scorer of 19 international goals but who seems – to borrow a phrase from Shane Warne – not to have played 54 matches for England, but to have played the same match 54 times. That is one decorated with jinks and turns, fine moments, blind alleys, and a sense always of being just a tantalising jiggle of his internal circuits away from a convincing international striker.
In the second half Rooney drifted to the left often, but again looked short of his peak level. On the hour mark he turned away from Seamus Coleman nicely but lacked the speed to run into the space behind him. He needs a break, a clear mind, and a full and energetic pre-season.
Again, though, England seemed to lack a clear sense of what their basic attacking patterns are going to be: not fully committed to counter-attack but still manfully resisting the long pass, they continue to play fumblingly off the cuff in attack. As Rooney slowed down a little in the second half his eye for a pass was more prominent, and Theo Walcott also had one of his better games for England, drawing a good low save from David Forde from Defoe's pass.
There are, of course, assorted structural problems with this England team. It is easy to blame the strikers for a lack of incision but this is not intended to absolve a midfield lacking in any real thrust in the centre, or players on England's flanks who worked hard without ever managing to find much space.
Above all Hodgson's selection lacked the drive and craft Wilshere had shown against Brazil at Wembley, and which might have brought a great deal more out of the perennial hopefuls up front.