Harry Kane’s scoring streak for club and country continued as the striker struck a 27th-minute penalty to guide England to a 1-0 victory over Lithuania, as the Three Lions ended their World Cup qualifying campaign on a winning note.
Already assured of top spot in Group F and hence, qualified for next year’s showpiece event, England had the luxury of affording debuts to Harry Winks and Harry Maguire for Sunday’s clash at LFF Stadium.
Manager Gareth Southgate experimented with a three-man defence for the first time in his tenure and while far stiffer tests await England in Russia, the trio of Michael Keane, Harry Maguire and John Stones looked fairly comfortable in the new formation.
Jack Butland started in goal with Aaron Cresswell and Kieran Trippier the preferred wing-backs for the night while Harry Kane lead the line with support from club teammate Dele Alli and Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford.
Lithuania, already eliminated, started brightly but it didn’t take long before the visitors began to assert their dominance.
Maguire had a golden chance to make it a dream debut as he was unmarked at the far-post when a cross came in from the right but couldn’t connect properly, much to his own dismay, in the 5th minute.
The hosts gave their illustrious opponents an almighty scare soon after, when Fedor Cernychas sent in a cross from the left and Darvydas Cernas connected with a deft flick, but the ball fizzed just wide of Butland’s post.
England responded by monopolising possession and again would fashion a clear-cut chance, but unfortunately for the Three Lions, the chance fell to a defender not an attacker. The Lithuanian defence made a hash of routine clearance and the ball bobbled to Michael Keane inside the box but the Everton centre-back couldn’t keep his volley on target.
The half-hour mark approached and as England pressed for the breakthrough, they got their just reward when Dele Alli tumbled from a Lithuanian challenge after a free-flowing move saw him burst inside the box. Kane stepped up and scored his second England goal in as many matches, his shot hitting the inside of the post before nestling in the back of the net.
Marcus Rashford ended the half on a strong note, dazzling the Lithuania defenders with his skills on the right-flank but the mercurial forward was unable to double England’s lead as the teams went into the interval with a 1-0 scoreline in favour of the hosts.
Harry Winks almost scored a dream debut goal early on in the second-half, weaving past challenges on the edge of the box only to see his shot acrobatically saved by Lithuanian shot-stopper Ernestas Setkus.
The plucky hosts, kept hitting England on the counter and very nearly found a shock equaliser of a fast break when Keane looked certain to have turned a low cross into his own net only for Butland to scramble and make an impressive save.
Lithuania continued to look for a goal and were not content by simply shutting up shop but despite a few well-worked moves, were unable to find a way past Butland.
Southgate sent on Daniel Sturridge for Rashford in the 72nd minute and while the Liverpool striker had a bright cameo, he was unable to add to his tally of eight England goals on the night.
With the result, England end their qualifying campaign with an impressive haul of 26 points from 10 games and will look to next year’s World Cup in Russia with plenty of hope.
Their young squad may not be firing on all cylinders at the moment but with plenty of time remaining, the scope for improvement is immense.