Trent Alexander-Arnold swung his left foot through the clearance and felt a sharp stab of pain up his thigh. Immediately he knew. After treatment the Liverpool right-back hoped he might be able to run off the problem and there was the bizarre moment when he was booked for coming back on to the field without permission.
But Alexander-Arnold’s game would end shortly afterwards and, as he was helped off around the perimeter of the pitch with the game almost up, it was easy to fear that his participation at the Euro 2020 finals was over.
After all of the attention on Gareth Southgate’s selection of four right-backs – particularly Alexander-Arnold, who has been in, out and back in – the manager might now be one down.
The friendly feel of this game was pronounced, despite the presence of 8,000 fans, some of whom let themselves down by booing the players when they took the knee before kick-off. It seemed that way because Southgate was without 11 key players, the contingents from Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea after their involvement in the Europa League and Champions League finals, which is a bizarre state of affairs given that England open the finals against Croatia at Wembley on Sunday week.
Southgate’s priority had to be to avoid any injuries, given that he is already worried about the availability of Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson, who was scheduled to feature here only to feel discomfort. It did not work out that way, with Jack Grealish, who had played in a No 10 role, pictured after his substitution with an ice pack against his shins. Grealish returned only in mid-May from a three-month lay-off with shin trouble.
It was an evening that was memorable for Bukayo Saka, who crowned a driving performance up the wing with his first England goal. It followed a Harry Kane pass for Jesse Lingard, a burst by Grealish and, when Marcel Sabitzer stretched into a tackle, Saka finished from a tight angle. But it was easy to feel that England got away with it, particularly Tyrone Mings, who might have been sent off in the early running for aiming a forearm smash into the face of the Austria striker, Sasa Kalajdzic.
What was Mings thinking about? The incident came off the ball and inside the England area as Austria broke up the left and it was a moment of recklessness that cannot be repeated at the finals when VAR will be present. Here the technology had the night off and the referee, Lawrence Visser, did not see it.
Trent Alexander-Arnold is helped off the pitch after picking up a late injury. Photograph: Alex Pantling – The FA/The FA/Getty Images
Southgate made substitutions after the hour and his team threatened to implode. Ben Godfrey, on for his debut, had his head in his hands after playing a loose backpass towards his own goal with virtually his first touch, and was mightily relieved when Jordan Pickford scrambled back to clear.
Pickford would brush a Sabitzer shot against his crossbar on 64 minutes but he failed to spread assurance in the closing stages, allowing one corner all the way across his six-yard line and also spilling a shot from Sabitzer out in front of him.
Austria ought to have found an equaliser. The substitute Michael Gregoritsch missed a gilt-edged header in the 89th minute before Pickford came out to claim a high ball only to clatter into Godfrey. When it broke, another England debutant off the bench, Ben White, cleared off the line from the Austria substitute, Florian Grillitsch.
Southgate included only three certain starters for the finals – Pickford, Declan Rice and Kane – but he watched the 17-year-old midfielder, Jude Bellingham, on his full debut, advance a case for inclusion against Croatia in the likely absence of Henderson. It was easy to see why there is such a buzz around him; his composure on the ball is astonishing, as is his positional discipline.
Kane’s link-up play was a feature of the first-half – the way that he dropped deep and sometimes wide to spark moves. His passing was excellent, but was he needed more in front of goal? Grealish flitted dangerously, daring his opponents to dive in on him and taking a few whacks, with the reward for his bruises being free-kicks.
England’s best moment in the first-half followed Saka slipping a pass through Xaver Schlager’s legs for Grealish on 29 minutes and him then playing in Kane. The captain looked offside, which was not given, and, from a tight angle, he watched Daniel Bachmann get out to block his shot.
Earlier Kane had played in Alexander-Arnold for him to lash at the roof of the net; Bachmann tipped over. Bellingham wasted a free header from a corner, Lingard had the ball in the net – but the whistle had gone for a foul committed by Mings on Martin Hinteregger – and Saka volleyed high over the bar.
There was not much from Austria before the interval save for a run by Christoph Baumgartner, which was eventually snuffed out by Mings. That would change as the game wore on, especially during the stressful late stages.
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