KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: England ended a run of five tournament matches without a victory with perfect timing – defeating Wales 2-1 in Lens at Euro 2016 courtesy of two precisely-judged substitutions.
Hodgson’s men went top of the Group B with second-half strkes from Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge after Wales had taken a surprise lead shortly before half-time with a superb 30m free kick from Gareth Bale.
England dominated possession from start to finish but played far better in the second period than in a scruffy first half and deserved the three points as Wales failed to match the energy and staying power of their opening win over Slovakia.
The last time England came off the pitch with a smile on their faces was at the end of their 1-0 group stage win over co-hosts Ukraine at Euro 2012. They then fell to Italy on penalties after a 0-0 draw in the second round before drawing one game and losing two at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
His redevelopment work was vindicated, however, when England won all 10 of their qualifying ties on the way to France. Bale, Wales’ one lone superstar, was clearly only seeking to create media mischief when he had suggested that not one of the England players would have been worth a red shirt.
Initially, the action was generated by England, hardly surprisingly since the onus was on them to try to win not only for the sake of recent history but because competition progress could depend on it.
Harry Kane sent Adam Lallana racing down the right and he provided an inch perfect cross only to see the inrushing Raheem Sterling shoot over the bar from the edge of the six-yard box.
England, without playing well, continued to raise the pressure level. Gary Cahill had a back-header gathered by keeper Wayne Hennessey and then England had an over-optimistic claim for a penalty for hands against Ben Davies turned down. But it was a sign of the balance of play.
Intriguingly England had abandoned the much-criticised practice of sending Kane to take the corners. Skipper Wayne Rooney took over duties and, from one such right-wing delivery in the 37th minute, Chris Smalling headed narrowly wide.
Rooney, however, inadvertently played a role in the phase of play which saw Bale shoot Wales ahead just before the interval. England’s skipper lost the ball to Hal Robson-Kanu just inside the England half and fouled the Wales forward in trying to regain possession.
That offered Bale the opportunity to shoot from goal from 30yd. His shot arrowed low over the bar and curled to the left of keeper Joe Hart who reached it with his hands but only pushed the ball on inside the post. It was Wales’ first goal against England in five meetings going back to 1984.
Such a devastating blow for England coming just before the interval prompted Hodgson into the match-reversing summoning of substitution support at the break with Vardy and Sturridge replacing the inneffective Kane and the even poorer Sterling.
Within 10 minutes the switches had started to pay off. Hennessey made one fine save, pushing a shot from Rooney wide of a post. But he was helpless when Vardy shot home from close range after a left-wing cross had fallen to him off the head of Ashley Williams. That was Vardy’s fourth goal in his fifth England appearance.
But being on terms was not enough for Hodgson. In the 73rd minute he also sent on Manchester United teenager Marcus Rashford in place of Lallana to maintain the momentum.
Again he was rewarded one minute into stoppage time when the foraging Sturridge moved out to the left, exchanged passes with Vardy as he stepped over one tackle after another, and knocked over Wales with a winning jab.