Gareth Southgate struggled to single out one standout performer for England against San Marino, but issued a collective praise of their midfield.
England got their World Cup qualification campaign underway with a routine 5-0 win. The game saw Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse and Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins get their first international goals – the latter on debut.
In truth, the scoreline could have been bigger, were it not for some misjudged finishes and an impressive performance from San Marino keeper Elia Benedettini.
However, England boss Southgate believes his players did their job to their highest standards. It left him with lots to savour.
Southgate told ITV: “We did it as well as we could.
“I was really pleased with the way we pressed when we lost the ball. That highlighted the mentality of the team for the full 90 minutes.
“Of course, it’s an opponent we should beat, but I thought they went about the job really well.
“There were lots of good individual performances. It would be difficult to pick one out.
“The midfield players moved the ball around really well. Kalvin Phillips, I was really pleased for him. He’s used the ball well and his athleticism around the pitch was good.
“Mason Mount in the first half was excellent and set the tone. It was good to see Jesse Lingard looking like he’s enjoying his football again. There were a lot of good things.”
One of those good things was Watkins’ debut goal. The striker rounded off the win with a well-taken finish after coming on as a substitute.
There were some questions about his inclusion in the squad instead of Patrick Bamford, but Watkins showed his worth with his cameo.
Southgate knows it was a moment to savour for the 25-year-old, who has settled in with the squad instantly.
The England manager said: “The first thing you saw was the reaction from the rest of the team. That shows you how together they are. They know what it means for him.
“He’s settled in really quickly with the group.
“He’s a really humble boy and it was nice to be able to give him half an hour or so. For him to get a goal is fairytale isn’t it?”
Southgate has Bellingham plan
Another player to come on as a substitute was 17-year-old Jude Bellingham, who has been developing well since joining Borussia Dortmund.
Asked if the teenager has a chance of making the squad for Euro 2020 in the summer, Southgate revealed a plan to fast-track him in the senior setup.
He added: “He’s a player we think is going to be an England international in the future.
“We feel that in that area of the pitch, although we were very happy with everybody tonight, we are a little bit short in numbers.
“For us to help develop him, to put him into games and to try and get him with the team, with the development he is getting at Dortmund as well, we’re hoping we can play a part in fast-tracking him into the group.”