Steven Gerrard and Joe Cole produced goals of the highest quality to lead Englan
Steven Gerrard and Joe Cole produced goals of the highest quality to lead England to a 2-1 victory over Serbia and Montenegro at a packed Walkers Stadium as preparations continue ahead of the Euro Qualifier against Slovakia...
David Beckham wasn't playing tonight but his replacements Steven Gerrard and Joe Cole demonstrated that England are far from a one man band.
Gerrard opened the scoring by finishing a wonderful team goal while Cole's individual set-piece was an effort of which the England captain would himself have been proud.
In a packed and colourful Walkers stadium, England started quickly. Secure in the knowledge that Phil Neville was there to run his patrols in front of the back four, the central trio of Lampard, Scholes and Gerrard knew they could take turns to canter forward with a freedom that being one of only a midfield duo does not permit. And, with all four eager to 'show' for the early pass too, the distribution from the back four was swift and sure.
The cohesion and comfort in England's game - fostered in South Africa and La Manga over the last two weeks - was exemplified by one almost telepathic early exchange between Lampard and Ashley Cole down the left flank.
Sven and Tord regularly stress the advantages of continuing club connections at international level too and the easy interplay between Neville and Scholes (Manchester United), Heskey, Gerrard and Owen (Liverpool), and Upson and Cole (former Arsenal team-mates), will have pleased the England coaching staff.
It also played a vital part in England's opening goal from Steven Gerrard. Neville and Scholes got the ball rolling before Gerrard took over to turn the move into a goal. Steven collected the ball from Scholes on the halfway line before shifting up the gears, playing a slick one-two with Frank Lampard. He then found Owen free on the left before sprinting into the box to convert his team-mate and captain's left-foot centre with a convincing finish.
England's midfield dynamo doesn't know the meaning of the word 'friendly'. He doesn't know the meaning of defeat in an England shirt either. Can it be a coincidence that the Three Lions have never lost when he has played? Moreover, how much will Sven be hoping that his midfield jewel will be fit to play in Euro 2004 (should we get there) having not been able to call on his considerable services at last summer's World Cup Finals?
Thoughts of next summer, however, were interrupted when, on the stroke of half-time, Serbia and Montenegro equalised. Having shown precious little attacking threat up to that point, they scored with their first meaningful effort on goal. Jestrovic climbed impressively to meet Vukic's corner and, though Ashley Cole did his level best to keep out the header, it was too firm to repel.
A raft of half-time substitutions changed the personnel if not the shape of the team. John Terry will have been delighted to make his England debut at the heart of the defence while, up-front, a fired-up Wayne Rooney was clearly keen to carry on where he'd left off against Turkey.
But the changes affected England's rhythm and it wasn't until the 63rd minute that we worked our first clear opening of the second period. Jermaine Jenas jinked into the centre and found his fellow substitute Owen Hargreaves with a cute ball into the inside-right channel. The Bayern Munich double winner hit some fine goals in training on Monday but he was a little too eager to let rip on this occasion, rather scuffing his low left-footed strike.
Joe Cole was also eager to impress and his swerving 75th minute effort brought the best save of the night from Dragan Zilic.
But that was just a warm-up! Having himself been brought down crudely by Vidic on the edge of the area, Cole got up to wrap a splendid free-kick home from 20 yards. You could see the concentration on the little wizard's face as he stepped up to the ball. The strike must go down as one of the finest of his career. He is desperate to prove he can make the grade at this level and his performance tonight made his argument in the most eloquent of fashions.
As the final whistle approached, England's amazingly youthful side (Carragher and Beattie were the only outfield players not born in the 80s) pushed forward with renewed zest. Barry and Rooney would both have joined Cole in getting their first ever England goals had it not been for the Zilic's acrobatics.
This was a good night and two wins in two friendlies have built both form and confidence but the matches against South Africa and Serbia and Montenegro have only ever been about preparation for the crucial European Qualifier with Slovkia next week. Neither Sven nor the players will lose sight of that.
From Daniel Freedman at the Walkers Stadium.
Stay logged on for more exclusive news and views from the England team when they meet-up over the weekend ahead of the big Euro Qualifier against Slovakia.
England: James, Mills (Carragher 61), Southgate (Terry 46), Upson (Barry 85), Ashley Cole (Bridge 46), Phil Neville (Beattie 88), Gerrard (Jenas 46), Lampard (Joe Cole 61), Scholes (Hargreaves 46), Owen (Rooney 46), Heskey (Vassell 61)
Subs Not Used: Robinson, Walker.
Serbia & Montenegro: Jevric (Zilic 67), Mirkovic (Nenad Brnovic 46), Vidic (Darko Kovacevic 82), Stefanovic (Krstajic 50), Markovic (Njegus 67), Duljac (Boskovic 47), N Kovacevic (Malbasa 46), Dmitrovic (Trobok 46), Sasa Ilic (Mijatovic 68), Zvonimir Vukic (Nenad Djordjevic 46), Jestrovic (Milosevic 74).
Booked: Vidic (81).
Referee: P Allaerts
Assistants: D Vanderhoven and R Hennissen (all Belgium)