LONDON (AP) — When John Stones gave the ball away to concede an equalizer, Harry Maguire was quick to reassure his England central defensive partner.
“Keep going,” Maguire recalled saying, “and we will get the win,”
And so they did against Poland — with Stones redeeming himself.
It was the Manchester City defender’s header that kept a corner from Kalvin Phillips in play and reached Maguire, who volleyed into the roof of the net to seal a 2-1 victory on Wednesday. It gave Gareth Southgate’s Group I leaders a third successive victory in a week to start qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Qatar.
“We are defenders — we always make mistakes,” Maguire said. “We don’t like mistakes. Sometimes we are at fault for goals.”
And England should have scored more in a dominant first half — rather than relying on Raheem Sterling being fouled by Michał Helik for captain Harry Kane to score his 34th goal for England in the 19th minute.
But the ineffective visitors were given a route back into the game when Stones dithered in possession on the edge of the England penalty area under pressure from Jakub Moder. Stones gave the ball away to Arkadiusz Milik who returned it to Moder to net the equalizer in the 58th minute.
It was the first shot on target faced by England in its three qualifiers and the first goal Nick Pope had conceded in his seven games in England’s goal. But it was Pope playing the ball short to Stones that contributed to the blunder.
“John has made a little blip tonight but he’ll come back strong,” Maguire said. “He’s in great form for club, he’s in great form for country.
“It was a good performance from him to come back strong in the reaction that he made and to get the assist is important for the team.”
Gifted a leveler, Poland gradually looked more of a threat — even without the injured Robert Lewandowski. Southgate had still made no changes to his side as the game reached the 85th minute — and it paid off thanks in part to Stones.
“He’s managed to compose himself for the rest of the game and had a part in the winning goal which is important,” Southgate said. “You can fold in those moments and he didn’t.”
It was the last chance for Southgate to assess his players before selecting a squad for the rescheduled European Championship. And when England plays its opener against Croatia on June 13, at least 10,000 fans should be allowed back into Wembley Stadium with the pandemic restrictions lifted.
While England players took the knee before kickoff, their Polish counterparts did not perform the anti-racism gesture — instead pointing to the UEFA respect badge on their jerseys.
Hungary remains two points behind England in second place after Attila Fiola, Daniel Gazdag, Laszlo Kleinheisler and Loic Nego scored in a 4-1 win at Andorra in the pursuit of the only automatic qualification place.
Albania rose above Poland into third place after Rey Manaj and Myrto Uzuni clinched a 2-0 victory over San Marino, which is on zero points with Andorra.
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