England Battle To Draw With Italy
…Italy unbeaten since World Cup
…England now not lost in nine matches
…Both teams started with experimental sides
…Harry Kane makes full England debut
Andros Townsend's spectacular strike gave an experimental England line-up a creditable draw against Italy in Turin.
Southampton striker Graziano Pelle's first-half header looked to have put Italy on course for victory in this friendly as England struggled to get to grips with the changes made by manager Roy Hodgson after Friday's Euro 2016 qualifier win against Lithuania.
England, however, were lifted by the introduction of several substitutes and Townsend capped a second-half display that merited a draw.
The Tottenham winger's rising 20-yard drive 11 minutes from time gave Italy's veteran keeper Gianluigi Buffon no chance.
Hodgson's side then ended the game on top and only a fine save from Buffon stopped England captain Wayne Rooney – who had earlier hit the bar – from adding to his total of 47 goals for his country and closing even further on Sir Bobby Charlton's all-time record of 49.
The experiment of using Phil Jones in midfield failed dismally and he reverted to defence when Chris Smalling went off ill just before half-time. Similarly, it was a wasted night for Arsenal's Theo Walcott, misused in a forward role rather than on the wing.
There were pluses too, however, with an excellent cameo from Everton's Ross Barkley and a composed performance from Michael Carrick when he replaced Smalling.
England, for long periods, looked poor and disjointed in a performance pock-marked by wayward passing. It was no coincidence that they improved significantly once players assumed more familiar positions and others were introduced who gave them pace, drive and width.
England's run of seven straight victories since the World Cup may be over but Hodgson might regard this as a satisfactory few days.
Victory against Lithuania made it five wins out of five in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign and this was a worthwhile fact-finding mission in Italy.
Hodgson will get his players back together in June for a friendly against the Republic of Ireland in June then another key qualifier away to Slovenia.
Kane's first action here was in sharp contrast to his debut as a substitute against Lithuania when he scored after only 79 seconds – as he was bundled unceremoniously to the ground within the first two minutes by a shuddering challenge from Giorgio Chiellini.
England's formation, with Jones floundering in a defensive midfield role, also lacked width and meant that chances were at a premium, although Rooney almost took another step towards Charlton's record with a deflected shot that bounced off the woodwork.
Italy were not markedly better, although England keeper Joe Hart did well to save from Marco Parolo's 25-yard effort, but they took advantage of poor defending from England to take the lead after 29 minutes. Chiellini escaped Jones far too easily and Pelle was then afforded too much time and space to glance a header past Hart.
England's makeshift side needed another revamp two minutes before half-time when Smalling went off feeling unwell, allowing his Manchester United team-mate Carrick to move into midfield and Jones to revert to his customary defensive role.
Italy almost doubled their lead within three minutes of the restart, Hart saving well from Citadin Eder before Pelle fired off target after Phil Jagielka's miscued clearance.
England carried a little more threat and there were half chances for Kane and Kieran Gibbs but they could only find the side-netting on both occasions. Rooney was also on target with a powerful shot but Buffon was equal to it.
Then came Townsend's powerful strike to give England the platform for a late surge. Kane had another shot saved by Buffon late on but there was to be no decisive late contribution from either Italy or England.