Team reporter Simon Hart assesses England's dramatic win against Wales with particular focus on the role of replacements at this tournament and Jamie Vardy's "magic carpet ride of a season".
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It's a squad game
If there is one trend already quite discernible at this EURO it is the importance of substitutions. This was never more apparent than at Stade Bollaert-Delelis on Thursday when England achieved their first comeback win at a major tournament since UEFA EURO 2004 thanks to goals from not one, but two replacements. Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge were the men who got the goals – the seventh and eighth by substitutes at these finals, underlining Roy Hodgson's view that "substitutions are going to play a major part in this tournament".
Bold by Hodgson
In the case of Hodgson's half-time double substitution, the introduction of forwards Vardy and Sturridge followed a first half where England struggled to penetrate a deep, disciplined Welsh defensive block and departed the pitch to the sound of boos from some of their supporters. "We'd have done that, I think, irrespective of whether we'd conceded the goal," said Hodgson, who wanted to "give a bit more spike to our attacking movements". Vardy and Sturridge helped, although England, for all their second-half pressure, managed only four attempts on target.
- Match report and analysis from Stade Bollaert-Delelis
- 'Poignant' for England, 'gut-wrenching' for Wales
Sturridge stakes his claim
"It is good to have players who can do something different in and around the penalty area," added Hodgson and in Sturridge he certainly has that. Vardy's magic carpet ride of a season means he is the man whose name the England fans were singing in Lens but Sturridge, a pre-finals fitness doubt, clearly brings his own X-factor, which could well move him ahead of Harry Kane (and the underwhelming Raheem Sterling) in the pecking order.
His quick feet allowed him to capitalise right at the last, his shot coming too fast to give Wayne Hennessey time to react. Replaying the goal, the 26-year-old recalled the swift exchange of passes between himself, Vardy and Delle Ali before he found the space to strike. "Dele did a great turn in the box. I managed to poke it into the back of the net. There were a lot of bodies around, it all happened so fast." Sturridge, as witnessed here, does not need much to make his mark.
Your luck evens itself out
It's a football cliche but in this case it could not be more true. England, having conceded in the 92nd minute against Russia, now scored at an equally late juncture. Hence the explosive celebrations by Hodgson and company at the goal which lifted England top of Group B.
"When we got that late goal, I think we ran the risk of smashing our heads against the roof of the bench because we all jumped up spontaneously," he said. "But it was a particularly poignant moment after what we had suffered on Saturday night when we thought we were really hard done by to concede that last-minute equaliser when we played so well. It is tough on Wales but we are perhaps even more delighted. It's unusual for things to even out so quickly."
Credit to Wales
Hodgson showed his respect for the wonderful Wales supporters by applauding both ends of Stade Bollaert-Delelis at the end and Chris Coleman's defenders warrant huge credit too. Wales succeeded largely in denying England space to exploit out wide, forcing them into the congested central areas.
Wales's determination was summed up by one moment in the second half when both Ashley Williams and James Chester slid in to block a Wayne Rooney shot. Williams said afterwards: "We've spoken in the dressing room already and we won't get down about it. It hurts – for the fans and everyone involved. This one hurts a little bit more but we'll stick together and go again." With Russia to come on Monday, their destiny remains in their own hands.