Bukayo Saka may have made the most heartwarming contribution to England’s 4-0 win over Andorra on Sunday but Jesse Lingard’s was the most potent.
The Manchester United attacking midfielder scored twice yesterday, breaking the visitors’ resistance early on and adding England’s third with a characteristically confident finish from 18 yards.
Lingard might have had a hat-trick but rounded off his afternoon’s work by teeing up Saka, whose last outing at Wembley had ended in tears after his Euro 2020 final penalty shoot-out miss.
The performance was reminder of the threat that Lingard can offer, and it might prove to be a rare point of reference for him and Gareth Southgate in the months to come.
He shone as brightly as any Premier League player in the second half of last season while on loan at West Ham, scoring nine times in 16 games and earning an England recall.
Lingard had hopes of carrying that momentum into the summer at Euro 2020 and this campaign, whether at United, West Ham or elsewhere.
Instead he was one of the names cut from Southgate’s provisional squad for the finals and since then his prospects of first-team football have notably dwindled.
First, West Ham opted instead to sign £26m Nikola Vlasic, 23, from CSKA Moscow rather than pay £30m for a player five years his senior.
Then, any hopes Lingard might have harboured of forcing his way back into the United line-up were dealt a swingeing blow by the return to Old Trafford of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Even for a player as confident in their own gifts as Lingard, five-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo, £78m Jadon Sancho, £43m Anthony Martial and national treasure Marcus Rashford represent stiff competition.
And yet as Sunday showed, Lingard does have something to offer.
Andorra may be weak opponents but they are awkward and leave little to no space behind their five-man defence.
Lingard and Saka were the only men in white who looked likely to breach them until Southgate summoned Jack Grealish, Harry Kane and Mason Mount.
The question is how many chances Lingard will get for United and, if those continue to be scarce, whether impressing in the odd outing for England will be enough to keep him in contention for Southgate’s squad at next year’s World Cup.
Southgate has shown a tendency to favour players in form for their clubs, and with Sancho, Rashford, Grealish, Saka, Mount, Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling all vying for three attacking slots, Lingard may continue to be limited to the odd eye-catching cameo.