England beat Romania 1-0 thanks to a Marcus Rashford penalty in their final pre-Euro 2020 warm-up match but the game was once again marred by supporters booing the Three Lions for taking the knee.
Fans jeered England players for showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement at the start of the 1-0 win over Austria earlier in the week, and despite Gareth Southgate clearly explaining on Saturday that his team’s gesture was motivated by racial injustice rather than politics, boos were clearly audible once more at the Riverside Stadium.
Potentially deflated by those fans’ blatant disregard for the team’s feelings, perhaps England’s rather subdued start in Middlesbrough had a straightforward explanation, with Southgate’s side not posing much of a threat until Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Jadon Sancho hit the crossbar after the half-hour mark.
The visitors looked as much of an attacking threat as England, but good work from Jack Grealish earned a penalty with 22 minutes to go and Rashford – captain for the day – converted with aplomb, with Jordan Henderson unable to follow suit from the spot a little later.
Romania looked much sharper than England initially, with Denis Alibec shooting just wide of the top-right corner and Razvan Marin firing at Sam Johnstone following a flowing move.
Florin Nita in the visitors’ net had very little to do before having the bar come to his rescue in the 32nd minute, keeping out a ferocious Calvert-Lewin header, and then again six minutes later as Sancho’s bending effort following a clever offload by Grealish had left the goalkeeper looking helpless.
But Romania still posed a threat at the other end, with Deian Sorescu testing Johnstone after being released in behind the suspect Tyrone Mings.
An encouraging aspect was the performance of Rashford, who after a difficult spell at club level, did well in the 62nd minute as he collected Calvert-Lewin’s lay-off and burst into the Romania half before shooting wide on the stretch after a lung-busting run.
Rashford was decisive soon after, however, coolly slotting in a penalty after Grealish – who was fouled on five occasions more than anyone else – found himself tripped by Tiberiu Capusa.
Henderson, introduced at half-time for his first outing since February, passed up the chance to make it 2-0 from the spot as Nita saved his kick following a foul on Calvert-Lewin by Vlad Chiriches.
That came hot on the heels of Johnstone producing a wonderful stop to thwart Andrei Ivan, with England ultimately settling for the 1-0 win.
What does it mean? Fan-player division threatening to overshadow Euros hopes
Many will be of the opinion that this is the most talented group of players England had have since the so-called ‘Golden Generation’, and by extension Euro 2020 offers their most realistic opportunity of rare success for many years.
But this unsettling division between the players and fans – a section of whom are pushing back against the team’s message that calls for racial equality – is not about to suddenly disappear. England will play at least three Euro 2020 matches at Wembley and the reaction of supporters will be at the top of the agenda, particularly ahead of their opener against Croatia.
While no one would doubt the professionalism of the England squad, it would only be natural for the Three Lions to find the situation disheartening, which surely will not help their mental state during an intense period.
Grealish surely an automatic starter
Sancho had his moments, Rashford looked sharper than he has done for months, and James Ward-Prowse was bright considering he is not currently in Southgate’s squad for the tournament, but the best player on the pitch was Grealish.
Although the Villa star made only one key pass, it was a lovely bit of play when teeing up Sancho to hit the bar, while he also won the first penalty. Grealish was almost constantly involved, his 16 duel involvements a match high, and he won 75 per cent of those. Romania did not have much of an answer for him, hence why he was fouled more than anyone else.
Shaky moments for Mings
It was not a particularly convincing performance from Mings, who was caught out a couple of times in the first half, with one of those instances seeing Sorescu escape in behind him and get a shot away. He was better in the second half, though his defensive partner Ben White looked more assured throughout, his four tackles being three more than Mings managed while he also made four interceptions to the Villa man’s zero.
Key Opta facts
– England registered their first win over Romania since the 1970 World Cup, ending a run of seven matches without a victory (D4 L3).
– England have not lost their final match ahead of their last 19 involvements in a Euros or World Cup (W15 D4). The last such defeat was a 1-0 away loss to West Germany immediately prior to the 1968 European Championship.
– England have won six consecutive matches in all competitions for the first time since a run of seven wins in a row between September 2014 and March 2015 under Roy Hodgson.
– England have kept a clean sheet in 10 of their last 12 friendly matches, including in each of the last seven such fixtures in a row.
– Henderson became the second player to miss a penalty for England under Southgate, after Harry Kane versus Kosovo in September 2019. Henderson has never scored for England in 59 appearances.
– Rashford has scored five goals in his last six appearances for England, as many as he had netted in his previous 24. Indeed, Rashford became the seventh Manchester United player to both start as captain and score in a game for England (also Bobby Charlton, Bryan Robson, David Beckham, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, Harry Maguire).
– Aged 23 years and 218 days, Rashford became the youngest player to start a match as England captain since Michael Owen (23y 179d) vs Slovakia in June 2003, which was also at the Riverside Stadium.
– England’s starting line-up against Romania did not contain any players from London-based club sides – the first time this has happened since March 1980 versus Spain.
England now turn their attention to the Euros, with their campaign beginning against Croatia at Wembley on Sunday, June 13.
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