Roy Hodgson rolled the dice and it came off. England, trailing at the break, are top of UEFA EURO 2016 Group B after a 2-1 win against Wales which came courtesy of second-half goals – including a late, late winner – from substitutes Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge.
It was an end which few could have seen coming after a first half in which both teams had certainly stuck to the script, England dominating possession, Wales refusing to press too high in a bid to keep their shape. Roy Hodgson’s side seldom unpicked the lock, Raheem Sterling missing the target with their best opportunity after a break from Adam Lallana.
Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling and Harry Kane all threatened with headers, television replays showing that the Tottenham Hotspur striker’s effort ricocheted off first the head and then the hand of Ben Davies.
Enter Gareth Bale. The Real Madrid forward lined up a free-kick which looked too far out, but such was the dip and swerve that Joe Hart could only palm into his net.
Cue the cavalry. Aaron Ramsey volleyed at Hart and Wayne Rooney tested Wayne Hennessey, but it was Vardy – brought on alongside Sturridge as Hodgson switched to a 4-4-2 – who restored parity, swivelling sharply to turn the ball in from close range after Wales had failed to clear a corner.
Chaos ensued, albeit briefly, with England throwing everything – teenage sensation Marcus Rashford included – at Wales, but Chris Coleman’s team looked to have regathered themselves until Sturridge, afer a neat give-and-go, forced his way through a congested penalty area and poked past Hennessey.
Man of the match: Kyle Walker
‘Jamie Vardy’s having a party’
Leicester fans have been singing it all season and, sure enough, Vardy is still having that party. Brought on at the expense of Kane, the only man who scored more 2015/16 Premier League goals, the substitute might have been frustrated by a lack of space to exploit since Wales were so compact, but he found another way to make a difference. Another chapter to add to an incredible story.
So nearly perfect from Wales
Tournament teams invariably need two things: a solid foundation and star quality. Wales’s back five, especially when as disciplined as they were here – with even full-backs Neil Taylor and Chris Gunter reluctant to bomb forward – ensure they are incredibly difficult to break down, while Gareth Bale alone gives them a chance whoever the opposition. They were denied at the last, but will fancy their chances against Russia.