England 2 Australia 1: Stadium of Light a great stage, but friendly can’t live up to the surroundings

Wayne Rooney slams home to make it 2-0 for England. Picture by Frank Reid
Wayne Rooney slams home to make it 2-0 for England. Picture by Frank Reid
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There were flags from all corners of the country.

Fans had come from Tamworth, Wolverhampton, Doncaster, Cheltenham, Birmingham and Bristol among other places.

Sunderland-born Jordan Henderson battles against Australia at the Stadium of Light. Picture by Frank Reid

Sunderland-born Jordan Henderson battles against Australia at the Stadium of Light. Picture by Frank Reid

And there was a huge Cross of St George flag marked out in the lower tier of the Stadium of Light’s North Stand.

But this was a night for Wearside to fly its flag by staging an England game for the first time in well over a decade.

It was also a proud night for Sunderland-born Jordan Henderson.

And it was a night to remember for debutant Marcus Rashford, who scored in a 2-1 win for Roy Hodgson’s side over Australia.

England sub Andros Townsend takes on Australia's Matt McKay. Picture by Frank Reid

England sub Andros Townsend takes on Australia's Matt McKay. Picture by Frank Reid

England had toured the country while Wembley was rebuilt at a huge cost.

And it was that cost of almmost £800million which had prevented, up to now, the team visiting the regions, something Hodgson himself had sought to address before Euro 2016.

The result was fixtures at the Stadium of Light and Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium.

Henderson had been a ball boy for England’s previous visit to the Stadium of Light 13 years ago for a crucial Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey.

Ross Barkley looks for an opening in England's win over Australia. Picture by Frank Reid

Ross Barkley looks for an opening in England's win over Australia. Picture by Frank Reid

Henderson, then at Sunderland’s Academy, went on to play at the stadium for his boyhood club a few years later.

There was a connection between the England team and the North East of England in those years – there were also games at St James’s Park – and it shouldn’t be another 13 years before they head back to the region.

Henderson, now at Liverpool and one of his country’s most experienced midfielders, had been a contender to captain Hodgson’s side given that Wayne Rooney – who had been instrumental in England’s success against Turkey that night – was to be among the substitutes.

The armband was instead given to Manchester United’s Chris Smalling.

But Henderson’s pride was obvious when he stepped back out on to the field with his international team-mates for England’s penultimate friendly ahead the tournament.

Newcastle United winger Andros Townsend had to look on from the bench alongside former Sunderland loanee Danny Rose, having again been named as a substitute, while Hexham-born Fraser Forster – who started his career at St James’s Park – was in goal.

The occasion lacked the intensity of that Turkey encounter, which was marred by trouble outside the ground.

But that wasn’t a surprise given that so much had been at stake back then.

However, the enthusiasm of Wearside – and the North East – for international football was undeniable, and the team, which had stayed on the banks of the Tyne, quickly gave the supporters something to cheer about.

Sadly, the din from the England band was as incessant, and irritating to many, as ever.

But the band had hardly got going when Rashford marked his England debut with a third-minute goal.

Rooney’s performance against Turkey at the Stadium of Light had caught the imagination.

Then a teenager, he went on to star in Euro 2004, which was staged in Portugal.

Could Rashford do the same across the Channel?

And Rooney, sat on the bench, had a huge smile on his face when his club-mate Rashford all but booked his place on the team flight to France with a goal 135 seconds into his senior international career.

The injured Daniel Sturridge, likely to miss out on a place in Hodgson’s squad, didn’t look so happy.

A cross from Raheem Sterling was deflected in the air and dropped kindly for Rashford.

The 19-year-old, an instinctive finisher, volleyed the ball home to become the third-youngest England goalscorer of all time.

There was a chant of a “football’s coming home”, the anthem of Euro 96.

But if England are to have anything like the success they enjoyed in that tournament, Hodgson must quickly sort out a defence which again looked vulnerable against an energetic and enthusiastic Australia team.

Aside from Rashford’s remarkable early goal, there was little to excite supporters in the first half. It was entirely unremarkable.

Rooney and former Newcastle midfielder James Milner replaced Adam Lallana and Jack Wilshere for the second half.

And it was Rooney who settled England down with a second goal, again from a Sterling pass.

Sterling broke up the left in the 55th minute and slid the ball across to Rooney, who beat Ryan with a precise right-footed strike into the top right-hand corner.

The game livened up a crowd which had probably expected more from a team which had waltzed through its qualification campaign.

Eric Dier headed the ball into his own net in the 76th minute, and seconds later Townsend was booed on to the pitch by Sunderland fans in the crowd.

There were cheers at the final whistle, but there hadn’t been much to cheer about.