Jesse Lingard’s first international goal extended England’s unbeaten run to seven games and gave them a deserved friendly victory against the Netherlands in Amsterdam.
Lingard made the decisive contribution just before the hour, arriving on the edge of the penalty area to fire low past Dutch keeper Jeroen Zoet, who got a hand to the shot but could not keep it out.
It was just reward for manager Gareth Southgate and his players after a controlled display with an experimental side, including Kyle Walker on the right side of a three-man defence.
Southgate’s only complaint will be England should have made more of their domination of possession, though they should also have had a penalty when Marcus Rashford was brought down by a combination of Zoet and defender Matthijs de Ligt.
Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford had the satisfaction of keeping a second successive clean sheet for England, although there was a setback when Liverpool’s Joe Gomez went off early through injury.
Southgate’s successful experiment
Southgate’s team selection raised eyebrows in a defensive context – particularly his use of Walker in a three-man defence rather than in his accustomed right-back position.
But Southgate can be satisfied with how his system worked, despite the early disruption when Gomez went off.
It was a performance that must be placed in context as it came against a very poor Dutch side in an obvious period of transition, but England were solid and composed, got a lead they deserved and protected it in complete comfort.
Walker settled well into his new role, and his raw pace certainly gives Southgate another option as he finalises his defensive options for Russia.
Greater tests will lie ahead with more threat than this lame and lacklustre Netherlands but England fully merited stretching their unbeaten run since their loss to France in Paris in June 2017.
Pickford stakes World Cup claim
Pickford was given a big opportunity to strengthen his claim to be England’s first-choice keeper at the World Cup when he was given the starting place in Amsterdam.
And, despite one or two anxious moments, the Everton keeper can be happy with a clean sheet to make it no goals conceded in his two England appearances.
Pickford – signed by Koeman for £30m from Sunderland in the summer – did well to sense danger and plunge at the feet of Quincy Promes when he threatened, and also showed safe handling to save from Memphis Depay. He also snuffed out late danger with a confident claim of a cross into his area.
That said, he was uncomfortable coming for a corner that allowed Bas Dost to get in a free header in the first half and was caught in possession by the giant striker as he shaped to clear.
Pickford was, however, very comfortable with the ball at his feet on other occasions, even happy to receive the ball right on his goalline from Stones.
Whether he has advanced his cause to start in Russia even further remains to be seen as Southgate explores his options, but he certainly did his hopes no harm.
Lingard shows happy goalscoring knack
Lingard has shown his ability to get a goal, many of them spectacular, at Manchester United this season.
And the 25-year-old showed his natural gift again on the hour, arriving after Danny Rose’s cross was deflected out off Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to send a low 20-yard shot past Zoet.
It was just what England needed because at that stage they had no end product to back up some controlled and composed approach work.
Lingard’s eye for goal will be key for Southgate’s plans – before he scored, injured Tottenham captain Harry Kane had netted seven of England’s previous 14 goals.
England carried plenty of threat with the pace and running of Lingard, his Manchester United team-mate Rashford and Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling – but Southgate will be grateful to have another natural goalscorer to augment Kane’s threat.
Big job for Koeman
Koeman is fulfilling a career ambition by coaching the Netherlands – but on this evidence he has been dealt a very tough hand.
Their standing is reflected in their failure to reach the World Cup, and this uninspired display illustrated the scale of Koeman’s task as he attempts to rehabilitate Dutch football and the national team.
Virgil van Dijk is Koeman’s new captain, and he will look to mix in his experience with maverick talents such as Depay and brilliant Ajax youngster Justin Kluivert.
Koeman’s complete self-confidence in his ability has been on show in Amsterdam this week – and he will need every bit of it with hopes of a sporting nation resting on his shoulders.
England host Italy at Wembley in Tuesday’s friendly (20:00 BST) as they continue their preparations for the World Cup.
The Netherlands travel to Portugal on Monday to take on the European champions (19:30 BST).