Half an hour after the final whistle, in one of the upstairs rooms of the only stand with a roof, the Lithuania coach, Igoris Pankratjevas, took his seat, waited for the first question then casually announced that it was his final act in the job, rose from his chair and walked out without a backward glance.
It was a strange ending to a slightly unorthodox game, played on an artificial pitch, with an old-fashioned punch-up in the stands and preceded by the local fire brigade turning up to water the pitch because the ground does not have a sprinkler system. Lithuania were the latest in a line of generous opponents for England in Group E and the campaign has finished with Roy Hodgson’s team winning all 10 games, scoring 31 goals and conceding only three. A record of that nature is clearly encouraging, though it is still plainly the case that a more accurate gauge of England’s credentials will come when the serious business begins.
For now all that can be said for certain is that no other team in the entire qualifying process can match England’s record. The forthcoming friendly schedule, featuring games against Spain, France, Germany and Holland, will surely tell more about the current state of Hodgson’s side than a predictably convincing win against a team of Lithuania’s low ambitions.
England scored twice in the first half, through Ross Barkley and an own goal by the home team’s goalkeeper, Giedrius Arlauskis, and Harry Kane might have finished with a hat-trick, or even better, before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain rifled in the third goal after the interval. Once again there was a significant imbalance of talent in an England fixture. Nobody, however, should be too surprised when Lithuania recently became the first team to concede at home to San Marino for 14 years and play in a stadium, the LFF that has only three stands, with nothing behind one goal but a high fence to stop wayward shots disappearing into the adjacent block of flats.
The facilities were certainly not of the nature that England’s footballers would expect in the Premier League. The dressing rooms were old-school in every sense – literally resembling the changing quarters that might be found at an old school – and some of the locals clearly were not too impressed to find several hundred England fans in their end. For a few minutes the brawling was as pronounced as at any England game in recent years and, though riot police arrived to divide the two sets of supporters, trouble flared again after Barkley’s deflected shot had given England the lead.
Barkley’s confidence was clearly high after his performance against Estonia last Friday and again the midfielder made a strong case for keeping his place. The Everton player was fortunate in the way his shot skimmed off the centre-back Tomas Mikuckis, but it was telling that he backed himself from over 20 yards.
Within six minutes England had doubled their lead. Kane’s ability to find space in the penalty area made him a regular threat. He had already taken aim on three occasions inside the opening half-hour and when he tried for a fourth time the ball came back off the post, ricocheted off Arlauskis and zigzagged over the line.
England were playing with a sense of control while still giving the impression they were operating with a certain measure of restraint. For long spells it seemed uninspiring but with more clinical finishing they could have scored far more heavily. Kane, in particular, will be frustrated not to have got on the score sheet, particularly in that moment early in the second half when Arlauskis blocked his shot and the rebound came back to the striker. A goal looked a near-certainty but the right-back, Georgas Freidgeimas, managed to get a touch on the shot. From the resulting corner Barkley’s header was saved on the goal-line and Lithuania were spared again.
At the other end Jack Butland was given a relatively easy re-introduction to the team and there was little to trouble Phil Jagielka on the night he became the first Everton player to captain England. Butland did make a diving save in the first half to keep out Lukas Spalvis’s shot but the biggest lesson of his second international appearance – his first was in August 2012 – was that there can be long spells in these fixtures when England’s goalkeeper occupies the role of long-distance spectator.
Just after the hour Kyle Walker advanced from his right-back position and flicked the ball to Oxlade-Chamberlain on his outside. Suddenly there was the time and space for the Arsenal player to size up his options. Running in diagonally, he went for power and unleashed a right-foot shot into the roof of the net.
Danny Ings, who had replaced Kane a few minutes earlier, looked busy and eager to impress and there was another substitute appearance for Dele Alli. Hodgson’s team was largely made up of his supporting cast but, even then, the gulf between the sides was substantial.