England ended the most challenging international camp of Gareth Southgate’s reign with another forgettable display as their Nations League trip to Denmark finished goalless.
As if the coronavirus measures, fitness concerns and Harry Maguire’s withdrawal were not enough for the Three Lions boss to contend with, Southgate sent Mason Greenwood and Phil Foden home on the eve of the Copenhagen clash after breaching the bio bubble.
Southgate certainly has plenty to mull over after their first international break in 10 months, with England failing to score from open play in either of their matches as Tuesday’s encounter in Denmark ended in a 0-0 draw.
Three days on from Raheem Sterling’s penalty sealing an unconvincing win in Iceland, the Three Lions again frustrated with the attackers isolated and midfield lacking creativity in front of a three-man backline featuring debutant Conor Coady.
Kalvin Phillips was the other new boy in the starting line-up against Denmark, who looked the bigger first-half threat and went closest through a Kasper Dolberg strike that forced Jordan Pickford into action.
The match continued in a similar vein until Southgate brought on Mason Mount and debutant Jack Grealish, but there was not enough time – or perhaps energy left in their team-mates’ legs – to eke out victory against Kasper Hjulmand’s Danes.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles became England’s fourth debutant of the evening – and sixth across these two matches – before Harry Kane saw a stoppage-time winner denied by Mathias Jorgensen’s goal-line clearance.
This match was played behind closed doors in Copenhagen, although the Danish Football Union had hoped to have fans here after a small number of supporters had been allowed into domestic fixtures.
One-way systems and social distancing spacing were visible around FC Copenhagen’s Parken home, with Wolves and Leeds toasting a momentous night as Coady and Phillips became their club’s first England starters since 1990 and 2003 respectively.
The former looked at home from the outset and was bellowing at team-mates, almost going as far as coaching them as the Three Lions returned to a three-man backline he is so used to at club level.
Coady was providing diagonal passes as well as a solid heart of the backline, but the formation was leaving England’s attack isolated and the midfield was struggling to create with Phillips alongside similarly defence-minded Declan Rice.
Final balls were being cut out by the Denmark defence in a stop-start opening to proceedings, with the hosts looking the most likely to score in the first half.
Dolberg whistled a strike just over from an acute angle after running at the Three Lions’ defence and Martin Braithwaite, the former Middlesbrough flop now at Barcelona, produced a lovely touch and fizzing strike just wide.
Pickford came to the rescue in the 37th minute when Christian Eriksen rolled former Tottenham team-mate Eric Dier and played in Dolberg, whose fierce near-post shot was turned behind.
England held firm into the break and made no half-time alterations, with Denmark continuing to be more productive in their attacking endeavours.
Southgate turned to Mount in the 60th minute in a bid to inject some much-needed creativity, just moments after Sterling put through Kane to get away a shot that Kasper Schmeichel saved unaware that the offside flag was raised.
The change had the desired effect as England began to threaten more.
Mount cut back for Kieran Trippier in the 69th minute, with the left wing-back cutting onto his right foot and curling a cross to the far post that Kane met with a header just over.
Schmeichel pushed a bouncing Sterling strike around the post a minute later, before playmaker Grealish came on for his debut in place of Phillips with 15 minutes remaining.
Eriksen flashed a strike just over under pressure from Joe Gomez as Denmark threatened a late winner but, after Maitland-Niles’ arrival, England were denied another stoppage-time triumph.
Kane outmuscled Andreas Christensen and rounded out-of-position Schmeichel before finding the target from an acute angle – only for Jorgensen to clear off the line.