England went into this game needing a win and a good performance and they got both. Capello opted for Cahill to partner Terry at the heart of the defence and he got the team off to a great start latching on to a Barry pass and slotting home under the keeper to open the scoring. Chris Smalling came into the team and was solid at right back making some important headed clearances in the first half. England extended their lead when poor marking from a corner allowed Wayne Rooney to head home all too simply. Parker was dominating the midfield and Bulgaria were struggling to mount any kind of serious attack. England looked sharp on the break with the pace of Downing and Walcott a constant threat. England added a third just before the break with a well worked counter attack, Walcott carrying the ball at pace and beating players before a clever reverse pass found Ashley Young, he curled a delightful through-ball across the area, leaving the keeper stranded and presenting Rooney with a tap in.
At the start of the second half Bulgaria had what was their only really good spell in the game and created their best chance when a near post corner wasn’t dealt with and a headed effort was well save by Hart who until that point had enjoyed a quiet evening. However England quickly settled back into their passing rhythm and continued to create chances. A well flighted Walcott cross was met by the head of Stewart Downing who saw his header unluckily come back off the post and roll away to safety. Milner was introduced and made a nuisance of himself as England saw out the game in a professional manner, gaining a rare clean sheet in the process.
England: Hart,Smalling,Cahill,Terry,Cole,Walcott (Johnson 83), Parker,Barry (Lampard 80),Downing,Young (Milner 62),Rooney.
Joe Hart – 6
It was a quiet night for Hart, if I wanted to be picky his kicking could have better in the first half but he was mostly unoccupied for the majority of the game. But when he was called upon he made a sharp save and that is the mark of a top keeper.
Chris Smalling – 6
A solid is unspectacular debut for Smalling. His size and strength are an asset when dealing with crosses and there were a number of times when he was required to make important defensive headers. He will be disappointed that he made a couple of errors, being beaten one on one and misjudging a header which could have proved more costly but overall it was a good defensive display. He looked calm and assured in possession and when he got the chance to deliver the ball into the box he showed real quality.
Gary Cahill – 8
I’m not sure he could have dreamed of a better performance, a goal, a win and a clean sheet is a terrific combo for a defender. He took his goal impressively, with a first touch on his chest that many forwards would have been proud off before instinctively sliding the ball home under the goalkeeper. Then amusingly he seemed reluctant to celebrate, certain that he was either offside or that something would undoubtedly happen to ruin his moment. In defence he was tidy and his pace is a real asset as he is able to offer cover in situations where England find themselves stretched.
John Terry – 6
This was the kind of performance you expect from John Terry, strong and commanding. He loves winning headers, something he did with relative ease during the game. Against better sides his lack of pace is always a worry, but his reading of the game, leadership and total commitment are hugely valuable.
Ashley Cole – 6
Not really the attacking display we are used to seeing, but Ashley Cole was strong in defence when called upon and played his part in a good defensive display and a well earned clean sheet. The only survivor of the 5-1 win in Germany 10 years ago, he still looks a class apart and doesn’t look like giving up his left back role any time soon, much to the disappointment of Leighton Baines.
Theo Walcott – 8
His running and movement were a joy to watch but what really tied his display together was the end product. Far too often criticism has been thrown his way for lack of a good final ball. Chris Waddle described him rather harshly of lacking football intelligence. Well I hope Mr Waddle was watching this evening, as Walcott produced an excellent display with the highlight being his run and clever pass for the third goal.
Scott Parker – 8
Strong in the tackle, busy and always looking to press the opposition Parker made sure the Bulgarian midfield didn’t have any time to enjoy themselves. What was equally pleasing was his use of the ball, which was clever yet simple. At no point did he try to overplay, moving the ball sharply and accurately and helping England to keep their forward momentum. It was a mature display and he now looks very much at home in an England shirt.
Gareth Barry – 6
I’m not a big fan of Barry. Credit must go to him for his part in the first goal, as it was his pass that found Cahill. But aside from that assist it was a frustrating display which left me wandering what others see in him. When sat along side Parker he pales in comparison. Where as Parker looks quick and agile, Barry looks one paced and lumbering. He did offer the back four extra protection but I think this was a job Parker was more than capable of doing on his own. Further more when he did receive the ball he all too often gave it away (I counted 10 times in the first half alone), which is simply unacceptable at this level. If I was Tom Cleverley I’d have been watching this performance thinking my time to shine cannot be far away.
Stewart Downing – 7
Downing has started well at Liverpool and he brought that form into this game. He looked lively but didn’t quite perform to the level of Walcott. There were a few times when I was willing him on, I wanted him to go on and try to score himself when instead he looked for the pass. This isn’t always a bad thing and perhaps he will grow into the team, because on this evidence he should definitely feature regularly, especially as Adam Johnson is struggling to break into the first 11 at Manchester City. Had his header have landed the other side of the post to make it 4-0 I’m sure he’d get a higher mark but those are the all important margins in football and at international level they often prove crucial.
Ashley Young – 7
Young spent the game in a largely central role, a position which I don’t think suits him nearly as much as the left midfield slot he has been filling for Manchester United so far this season. There are few better at twisting and turning a fullback inside out and finding either a cross or a stinging shot than Young and all too often he looked lost in a more central area especially when Rooney drifted deep. Still, when he had the ball he used it effectively and his pass for the third goal was exquisite. He is a huge talent and should command a starting place for England, but perhaps Capello has to find a more suitable role for him.
Wayne Rooney – 9
When he’s in this form it’s simply delightful to watch Rooney play football. He always wants the ball, regardless of how tight a situation he may be in, he finds a way to create space and outwit defenders. He was strong, but he was elegant, technically flawless and powerful. His ability to bring others into play is only rivalled by his ability to put the ball in the net. Rising to meet a corner for his first, he yet again displayed his new found love for headed goals, before good movement saw him rewarded with a tap in, finishing off a flowing England move for the third goal, capping a display which highlighted his overwhelming importance to the side. Now if we can only get him to play like that this summer…
So overall a good performance and an excellent result against what was in truth a poor Bulgarian side. I would fully expect a similar England team to line up against Wales on Tuesday. Given that the Welsh beat Montenegro this evening they should offer far more of a test at Wembley than England faced this evening, but after tonight’s performance I might even go as far as to say I’m looking forward to it.