Gareth Southgate’s four-game reign as England’s interim manager began with a comfortable World Cup qualifying victory over Malta at Wembley Stadium.
Daniel Sturridge broke the deadlock with a header just before the half-hour mark and Dele Alli completed the scoring just nine minutes later.
The Three Lions had chances to win the game by a more comfortable margin but Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg had a terrific evening between the sticks to keep the scoreline respectable from the visitors’ perspective.
England 2-0 Malta
2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
European Qualifiers (Group F)
Saturday 8 October 2016
Wembley Stadium connected by EE
Pietro Ghedin’s side travelled to London in hope more than expectation and they were required to defend for the entire match, save from Andrei Agius’s volley late on.
England dominated possession throughout, as was probably to be expected against a side ranked 176th in the world, and often had to contend with Malta bringing all 11 players back into their own half in a vain attempt to keep the hosts at bay.
The first effort of the game came from Three Lions skipper Wayne Rooney on the right-hand side of the Malta box. His curling effort was palmed away well by Hogg, the first of many that Kingston-upon-Thames born Hogg would be required to make.
Southgate was forced into an early change as Danny Rose had to come on for the injured Ryan Bertrand after just 19 minutes.
And just seconds after Rose’s introduction, debutant Jesse Lingard, whose last two goals for Manchester United came at Wembley, had an excellent chance to break the deadlock when played in by Henderson but he lifted his shot just over the bar.
Man of the match Henderson was again orchestrator-in-chief as he created the next opening for England as Dele drew a fantastic save from Hogg. Sturridge could only blaze the rebound high and wide.
Eventually, though, the goal did come and Henderson was in the thick of the action once more; his right-sided cross expertly headed into the far corner by Sturridge for his seventh international goal.
The Liverpool captain notched his second assist less than ten minutes later when he played Dele into the box, and the Tottenham midfielder prodded home at the second attempt for England’s 600th goal in competitive internationals.
Sturridge might have made the half-time scoreline more comfortable, only to be foiled at the near post by Hogg, who held on to the striker’s six-yard header moments later.
Malta were under the cosh for the entire 90 minutes and they had Hogg to thank further for keeping the score down after the break.
With Southgate’s men controlling the second half, Hogg did brilliantly to claw away an angled Rooney free-kick, and he did even better to deny Theo Walcott from close range when the Arsenal speedster was slipped in by Dele.
Malta’s only opening came on 81 minutes when Agius peeled away to meet a free-kick on the volley but Joe Hart was alert and blocked the ball at his near post.
Dele probably should have netted England’s third late on but he somehow contrived to hit substitute Marcus Rashford’s cross over the bar from a matter of yards.
The result was never in doubt once Sturridge headed home, and Southgate and his team will no doubt face a sterner examination in Slovenia on Tuesday night.
England (4-3-3): 1 Joe Hart; 2 Kyle Walker, 5 Gary Cahill, 6 John Stones, 3 Ryan Bertrand; 4 Jordan Henderson, 8 Dele Alli, 10 Wayne Rooney (C); 7 Theo Walcott, 9 Daniel Sturridge, 11 Jesse Lingard.
Substitutes: 14 Danny Rose for Bertrand 19, 20 Marcus Rashford for Walcott 68, 19 Jamie Vardy for Sturridge 74.
Substitutes not used: 12 Chris Smalling, 13 Fraser Forster, 15 Eric Dier, 16 Michael Keane, 17 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 18 Michail Antonio, 21 Andros Townsend, 22 Tom Heaton.
Goals: Sturridge 29, Dele 38.
Interim manager: Gareth Southgate
Malta: 1 Andrew Hogg, 4 Gareth Sciberras, 5 Andrei Aguis, 6 Steve Borg, 8 Paul Fenech, 13 Andre Schembri (C), 17 Ryan Camilleri, 18 Bjorn Kristensen, 19 Alfred Effiong, 20 Zach Muscat, 22 Alex Muscat.
Substitutes: 9 Michael Mifsud for Effiong 76, 10 Rowen Muscat for Schembri 86.
Substitutes not used: 3 Joseph Zerafa, 7 Clayton Failla, 11 Stephen Pisani, 12 Henry Bonello, 14 Jean Paul Farrugia, 15 Mark Scerri, 16 Ryan Scicluna.
Manager: Pietro Ghedin
Referee: Stefan Johannesson (SWE)