England manager Roy Hodgson got his last chance to study his options up close for the forthcoming World Cup in Brazil.
A solid yet uninspiring 1-0 victory over a compact and unimaginative Denmark will give Hodgson plenty to ponder in the upcoming weeks as the domestic season draws to a close.
Here are a few of the winners and losers from the Wembley encounter:
Raheem Sterling – Starting with the lively Sterling was a great show of confidence from Hodgson for a player who has been right at the centre of Liverpool’s rise up the table in recent weeks. Sterling showed a willingness to take on numerous defenders at once. Sterling created four chances in the game. With competition from the likes of Alex-Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana and past flavour-of-the-month Andros Townsend, Sterling proved himself as a strong candidate for a starting berth down the wing come Brazil. With Theo Walcott unavailable Sterling feels the best direct replacement with his pace and if he keeps up his form for Liverpool in the Premiership Hodgson would be blind not to select him.
Jordan Henderson – Hodgson opted for Jordan Henderson to man the centre of the field with Liverpool colleague and captain Steven Gerrard, along with Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere. His selection alone suggested he is strongly in the manager’s thinking and when England began to take the game to Denmark late in the first half in during the second, Henderson showed some of the drive he’s displayed for Liverpool on numerous occasions this season. A few neat touches and some accurate passing, most notably a fantastically weighted slide-rule pass through to Danny Welbeck should have ended with him gaining an assist, but for the inspired form of Kasper Schmeichel. Henderson maybe didn’t impose himself on the game as consistently he would have liked but at 23 and with only eight caps to his name he did his case no harm.
Adam Lallana – Given just over half an hour as a replacement for the injury-struck Jack Wilshere, and he made an immediate impact. His attacking intent was obvious as he always looked to pick the ball up inside Denmark’s penalty area. Lallana is adept with both feet and he has the ability to create space in tight areas. A slick dummy and beautifully flighted left-footed cross put the ball on a plate for Sturridge to nod past Schmeichel. Seven goals and seven assists in the league for Southampton shows Lallana combines creative play with a solid output. Hodgson can’t have ignored his impact.
Kieran Gibbs –As Leighton Baines’ inclusion in the final 23 seems a dead cert, the sheer fact that it there is one left-back spot to fight over makes the likelihood of Kieran Gibbs’ addition even more unlikely. Despite his consistent performances for Arsenal this season he struggles with injury on a regular basis. He failed to make the squad for the Denmark friendly and solid performances from both Ashley Cole and Luke Shaw may mean he fails to make the provisional 30 come May. His only hope may be that Cole’s time on the bench for Chelsea sees him edge ahead of the ex-Arsenal man.
Tom Cleverley – Despite Cleverley struggling for any kind of form this season, he retains the confidence of Hodgson. When the England manager opted to replace Henderson with Oxlade-Chamberlain with just 13 minutes to go, it suggested a change of direction. Arsene Wenger remains convinced that Oxlade-Chamberlain’s future lies in a central role and Hodgson has seemingly heeded this advice. His inclusion in central areas for Arsenal and now his presence in the centre of the field suggests Hodgson is looking for a more dynamic option to sit alongside Gerrard. Cleverley’s basic style of play combined with a lack of international experience is a problem and Hodgson has a number of better young options to play in midfield as the game versus Denmark demonstrated.
Jack Wilshere – His early collision with Daniel Agger will have had many Arsenal fans screaming at their television sets to take him off immediately. The pain was evident on his anguished face as he kicked the bottom of Agger’s boot. Choosing to continue, it seemed as though the pain was just from the initial impact. Wilshere confirmed after the game that it was just bruising but the news that he has suffered a hairline fracture will be most unwelcome for Wenger, Wilshere and Hodgson. He is destined to sit out for six weeks which will leave him with just five games to prove to Hodgson he is back to form and fitness. These things have a habit of taking time to recover and Wilshere may just find himself in a race against time.