An injury-time winner against Wales and a peaceful night of celebrations for their much criticised supporters have given England fresh momentum ahead of their final Group B game against Slovakia.
Manager Roy Hodgson was delighted at the way his side beat Wales 2-1 – the first time they have won after trailing at half-time in major tournament finals – in Lens on Thursday to top the group with four points from two games.
But just as significant for England’s tournament prospects was the good-humoured behaviour of their supporters after the game which has eased, for the moment at least, fears of tournament expulsion following the earlier violent scenes on the streets of Marseille.
Hodgson was relieved to only face questions about on-field matters and believed the manner of England’s victory justified his decision to include five strikers in his 23-man squad.
The manager sacrificed an extra central defender to bring both Daniel Sturridge, who picked his way through the penalty area to break Welsh hearts, and 18-year-old Marcus Rashford to France.
Both were sent on as second-half substitutes, along with Jamie Vardy, who scored England’s opening goal, in a series of bold moves that confirmed the importance of making full use of the squad.
“Substitutions are going to play a major part in this tournament. The games come thick and fast. Each team has 23 players, in those 23, there’ll be a lot of players who feel hard done by when not selected and feel maybe they should’ve been selected,” said Hodgson.
“You as a manager or coach selecting the team will sometimes find it hard to look beyond them, so I think it’s going to be a feature of the tournament.”
France also relied on a substitute, Antoine Greizman, to break the deadlock against Albania on Wednesday night. Sturridge’s winner on Thursday made it six goals in stoppage time out of 34 in all matches at the tournament, against only four scored in the first half-hour of games.
But for all Hodgson’s joy at masterminding what had appeared an improbably victory at half-time, his attack-minded squad selection means he has few options at the back where Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill could yet be exposed by teams with more guile than Wales.
Leaden-footed defending after Sturridge struck his winner on Thursday almost allowed Gareth Bale to grab an equaliser, while England goalkeeper Joe Hart was to blame for Bale’s first-half opener from a swirling free-kick.
That led to England being booed off by some of their supporters at the interval and Hodgson still appears to be working out his best team.
Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane are unlikely to make the starting line-up for Monday’s game against Slovakia while Kane’s Tottenham Hotspur team mate Delle Ali gave a largely low-key performance before setting up Sturridge for his late strike.
England should probably have made more of Kyle Walker, whose rampaging runs down the right provided their main threat, but too often their approach play appeared over-elaborate.
Hodgson now has three days to put that right, but the evidence so far suggests England’s veteran manager is prepared to be bold as they seek their first ever major tournament victory on foreign soil.