Ollie Watkins Leads England to Rainy Victory at Wembley
|Ollie Watkins of England takes on Keanu Baccus of Australia during the international friendly match between England and Australia at Wembley Stadium on October 13, 2023 in London, England(Image-Getty)
England's Ollie Watkins made a triumphant return to the international scene, securing a narrow 1-0 victory for Gareth Southgate's experimental side in a rain-soaked friendly clash against Australia at Wembley Stadium on Friday.
Ahead of a crucial Euro 2024 qualifier versus reigning champions Italy, Southgate utilized the match to offer respite to key regulars such as captain Harry Kane, providing valuable game time to several younger squad members. The starting 11 featured merely three players with more than 10 caps, witnessing significant alterations from the lineup that prevailed over Scotland 3-1 in England's previous international fixture, with the debut of Chelsea defender Levi Colwill.
Watkins, reappearing for the first time since March 2022, expertly slotted the ball into the far post in the 57th minute following a slick delivery from Jack Grealish. This marked the Aston Villa forward's third goal for England, though notably, the span between this goal and his previous one stretched 563 days.
Reflecting on his performance, Watkins, speaking to Channel Four television, expressed his delight at the opportunity, acknowledging the challenges of the game and the necessity for improvement within the team. As the match progressed, Southgate implemented multiple substitutions, including the substitution of Watkins with debutant Eddie Nketiah in the 73rd minute.
Despite England's dominance in possession, the contest failed to deliver a thrilling spectacle, with the experimental lineup exhibiting defensive vulnerabilities and a lack of cohesion. Watkins, in particular, had come close to scoring in the first half, circumventing goalkeeper Mat Ryan only to see his effort rebound off the post.
Throughout the game, Australia demonstrated their capacity to take the lead, with England goalkeeper Sam Johnstone and defender Lewis Dunk executing crucial interventions to maintain the clean sheet. The visitors' Connor Metcalfe's close effort from a corner nearly equalized the score, hitting the post with just ten minutes remaining.
The victory at Wembley marked Southgate's 55th triumph as England's manager, while both teams paid homage to the victims of the Israel-Palestine conflict, donning black armbands and observing a moment of silence. However, the decision by the Football Association not to illuminate the stadium's arch in blue and white as a symbol of solidarity with Israel triggered a rebuke from the government, following recent attacks by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.