| Sven-Goran Eriksson made five changes at half-time, bringing on 17-year-old Wayne Rooney, surprisingly at the expense of Michael Owen (seen in a challenge with Serbia-Montenegroís Dejan Stefanovic) in Leicester Tuesday. (Reuters)
Steven Gerrard and Joe Cole took their chances, Sven-Goran Eriksson took no chances and so England warmed up for next weekís important Euro 2004 qualifier against Slovakia with a welcome win Tuesday and their precious stars safe from harm courtesy of the liberal use of substitutes.
After Gerrard and Nenad Jestrovic had traded goals in the first half, Eriksson began changing the guard, removing the likes of Michael Owen, Paul Scholes, Ashley Cole and Gerrard and sending on 10 substitutes.
If it denied a noisy, well-behaved crowd the opportunity of seeing Owen and Wayne Rooney, a bizarre decision given the need to develop such a potentially exciting partnership, it did allow players like Joe Cole to come on and light up proceedings. Coleís free-kick goal was a gem and a worthy winner.
Victory was well-deserved but the game was slightly devalued by the pass-the-parcel being played with the captainís arm-band which went from Owen, Emile Heskey, a bemused Phil Neville and then Jamie Carragher.
Such is the nature of modern friendlies. But at least in these sensitive times the fans were friendly.
Maybe it was the shock of an opponentís national anthem being unaccompanied by whistles that had so bemused the players, leading to such a sluggish start. But 10 minutes from the break, such languid football was forgotten as the fuse was lit in spectacular fashion.
A determined figure keen to accelerate the momentum, Gerrard had been moving inside from his right-midfield station to good effect. Comfortably Englandís best performer as he drove the team on, Gerrard made and finished a goal of style and substance.
This was the type of attacking surge Englandís fans craved, the ball guided quickly and skilfully forward, opponents caught out by the alacrity of thought and movement. This was fine, one-touch, passing football, punishing indecision and delighting Englandís support.
After some slow-slow stuff between Matthew Upson, Scholes and Phil Neville, England switched to quick-quick mode. Scholes spotted Gerrard muscling through the middle and released him. After playing a wall-pass off Lampard, Gerrard pushed the ball at speed past the diving Igor Duljaj and Zoran Mirkovic and then found Owen on the left.
A stadium stood in anticipation. On Gerrard raced, shaping his body to receive his club-mateís return pass. As the ball came across him, Gerrard turned the ball firmly with his right foot past Dragoslav Jevric.
The joy sweeping around the Walkers Stadium was shortlived. Seconds before the break, Serbia-Montenegro equalised following terribly lax marking by England at a corner. Slobodan Markovic whipped in the ball towards the penalty spot. Upson allowed himself to be muscled off the ball by Jestrovic, the Partizan Belgrade centre-forward who had been showing that shirt-pulling remains a dark science alive and well in the former Yugoslavia.
Having created, however illegally, some space for himself, Jestrovic met the corner with a powerful header which eluded Ashley Cole who was guarding Englandís right-hand post. The ball bounced over the line, Cole headed it out, and just to make sure, Jestrovic applied the coup de grace with a close-range shot.
Mindful of the more important assignment against Slovakia next week, Eriksson locked away his jewels for safe-keeping. Owen Hargreaves replaced Gerrard down the right, Neville remained on the pitch while Jermaine Jenas arrived to attempt to replicate Scholesí darts from deep.
John Terry came on for his international debut, slotting in alongside Upson, while Rooney soon caught the eye with a bright break and cross.
Rooney had alarmed Englandís bench and the watching Everton party when he fell, clutching his shin, after colliding with Nemanja Vidic. He tried to run around but collapsed to the floor and needed attention from Gary Lewin before resuming play.
Just when it seemed that the game was petering out into a desultory draw, Joe Cole struck superbly, ramming home a 20-yard free-kick after Rooney had been brought down by Vidic. Gareth Barry, yet another substitute, could have made it 3-1 but dithered over his shot while Rooney electrified the ground with a typically muscular run and shot which was clawed away by Dragan Zilic, the visitors substitute keeper.