Gareth Southgate says that his preparations for Euro 2020 have been more complicated than any other nation and it was easy to see why during this chaotic final warm-up.
The manager was without seven of his squad, having given his Manchester City and Chelsea players the week off after their involvement in the Champions League final the previous weekend and that, in itself, felt ridiculous, given England play their opening tie of the finals against Croatia next Sunday.
It led to an almighty amount of mixing and matching from Southgate in terms of selection; he gave minutes to five of his stand-by players – Ben Godfrey, Ben White and James Ward-Prowse from the start; Jesse Lingard and Ollie Watkins off the bench. One of them will step up to replace the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold, with Southgate waiting until Monday to make the announcement.
It was no surprise to see a disjointed performance, even if there were positives in the shape of a driving performance from Luke Shaw, the industry and set-piece menace of Ward-Prowse and the trickery of Jack Grealish.
It was Grealish who made the difference for what proved to be the winning goal, bursting in between Vlad Chiriches and the Romania substitute, Tiberiu Capusa, before getting across the latter, feeling the contact from him and going down. Marcus Rashford, who captained the team, converted the penalty after a slow, stuttering run.
England might have won by more. Southgate was pleased to get Jordan Henderson on at half-time for his first action since late February and groin surgery but less so when the midfielder saw a 78th-minute penalty saved by Florin Nita. The kick was awarded after Chiriches cleaned out Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Romania, who have not qualified for the Euros, could have got something against an England defence that featured a wobbly performance from Tyrone Mings. Having threatened with too much regularity, Mings made a good block to deny Alexandru Cicaldau on 75 minutes before Sam Johnstone, the debutant goalkeeper, made a fabulous save to keep out Andrei Ivan on the rebound.
The scene had been set, with depressing predictability, by loud booing from some England fans when the players took a pre-match knee in the fight against racism. The same thing happened before the Austria game here last Wednesday but this time, it was more sustained, lasting longer. On the other hand, there was much a more concerted effort from the rest of the crowd to drown it out. It did not work. This is a saga that will run and run.
The smart money is on Southgate calling up Ward-Prowse to replace Alexander-Arnold, partly because he has only four pure central midfielders at the moment. Is it a consideration that Ward-Prowse can also play at right-back?
Ward-Prowse’s set-piece delivery is a more serious part of his appeal and, from a whipped free-kick on 32 minutes, England almost went ahead. Calvert-Lewin was on the edge of the area when he rose to loop a header over Nita. He saw it come back off the crossbar.
Jadon Sancho showed a few nice touches off the right-wing and he, too, was denied the opening goal by the woodwork. Having combined with Grealish, he appeared to have got his curler for the far, top corner just right. Frustratingly, he put a fraction too much on it.
It says much about the strangeness of Southgate’s preparations that he could have named four right-backs in his squad for the finals last Tuesday and played a different player – Godrey – in the position here.
Rashford could have had a penalty in the 24th minute when Chiriches made contact with him, having missed the ball, but Romania gave Southgate’s defence plenty of problems. Razvan Marin shot straight at Johnstone while the visitors’ big first-half chance came just before the break. Deian Sorescu played a give-and-go to get through rather too easily only for Johnstone to save with his feet.
There were a few boos from the home crowd upon the half-time whistle but cheers at the beginning of the second half for Henderson’s introduction.
Ward-Prowse brought some hustle and it was from another of his precision free-kicks, whipped in from the left, that England ought to have taken the lead. This time, Calvert-Lewin met it at point-blank range only to scuff the finish and allow Nita to save on the line. It was a horrible miss.
Southgate had switched from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3 just before the goal and one of the byproducts was Grealish moving out to the left. It was from where he won the penalty, slicing into the area and, towards the end, England might have added to their lead. Calvert-Lewin was denied by Nita while Jude Bellingham, on as a substitute, saw a close-range header cleared away by Chiriches.