England looking like their own worst enemy ahead of Euro 2024

Jude Bellingham celebrates after scoring his side's equalising goal for England against Belgium at Wembley Stadium (Action Foto Sport via Reuters C)

By Ben Hart at Wembley Stadium

The glory years of Match of the Day’s ‘2-good 2-bad’ are long gone but England did their best to recreate the skit in a fun but infuriating draw with Belgium at Wembley.

The Three Lions attacking flair was offset by defensive frailties but they should still have been out of sight long before Jude Bellingham’s last-gasp equaliser.

This was a much better display than Saturday’s offering against Brazil even with the entire first-choice back four sidelined following John Stones’ early withdrawal on Tuesday night.

But with just seven wins from 24 games against sides ranked in the top 10 of the world, questions linger as to whether Southgate’s England will have enough to strike gold in the summer.

"I thought we controlled the game, possession tells us that, we created a lot of chances so the piece of our game that wasn’t there against Brazil was much better,” said Southgate.

“Yes, we conceded poor goals and we were vulnerable in the transition but that's the trade-off we had with the profile of players on the pitch.

“I thought with the character shown as well as the quality shown, we really deserved to take something from the game."

England started brightly and could have scored inside 25 seconds through Ivan Toney but he fired a volley into his own arm from Jarrod Bowen’s cross.

That bright start gave way to the first act of self-sabotage, with goalkeeper Jordan Pickford culpable on this occasion.

Despite being under very little pressure his clearance was intercepted by Everton teammate Amadou Onana and allowed Youri Tielemans to fire into the bottom corner from distance.

England rallied well and levelled just six minutes later when Brentford striker Toney converted a penalty he had won after a desperate lunge from Jan Vertonghen.

He showed no sign of any nerves from the spot and slotted coolly to cap his first England start with a goal.

With this being England’s final game before Southgate names his provisional Euro 2024 squad, Toney needed to make the most of his audition and he seized the opportunity with both hands, not just with his goal but his all-round play too.

"It was very special to get on the scoresheet,” he said.

"You always have to stay calm from the penalty spot, you see the goalkeeper trying to put you off but I waited.

"I hope I did [impress] and I'm always trying to work hard. I support Ollie [Watkins], it is friendly competition and I wish him all the best when he goes on the pitch.

“Hopefully I did well and gave myself a chance to put myself forward for the Euros.”

England shot themselves in the foot again before the break when Lewis Dunk’s miscued clearance allowed Romelu Lukaku to pick out Tielemans at the far post.

Now of Aston Villa, Tielemans scored a Wembley winner for Leicester City against Chelsea in 2021, and he was enjoying another memorable night in the capital following his first-half brace.

One player who was making his first start at Wembley was Manchester United’s Kobbie Mainoo.

The 18-year-old was voted Player of the Match by England fans and his manager was equally fulsome in his praise.

"He had a fabulous week with us and everything we've seen with his club he reproduced in an England shirt,” said Southgate.

“Very calm, received well under pressure, strong. We were a little bit more open playing that way but the benefits with the ball were clear to see."

Mainoo was replaced by James Maddison with 15 minutes to go and it was the substitute’s brilliant cutback which found Bellingham unmarked at the death.

The Real Madrid star had earlier misplaced a header wide while Phil Foden slashed across goal and so it looked like England were heading for back-to-back Wembley defeats for the first time in 11 years.

Then, in the fifth minute of stoppage time, golden boy Bellingham delivered a sublime touch and shot for the 26th goal of a remarkable personal season.

How much Southgate will have learnt from these two matches is hard to tell with so many would-be starters sidelined through injury.

What does seem clear is that England’s Euros quest hangs on the fitness of their defensive stalwarts.

Without them, the good might just give way to the bad.