While the sight of Ben Godfrey ultimately sealing this victory filled Aidy Boothroyd with joy, the preceding move spoke far more to England’s progression at Under-21 level.
Already a goal up, Godfrey slid in Callum Hudson-Odoi’s corner at the back post four minutes into the second half. Now six points clear with a game in hand at the qualification table’s summit, only unmitigated disaster will prevent a spot at next year’s European Championship.
All that is fine, much of it expected, but the uninterrupted 18 passes before the second goal – involving nine outfield players and ending with Ryan Sessegnon thwarted by the goalkeeper’s face when clean through – pointed to a team now more incisive when probing.
England went right, came back in, then left and eventually engineered Sessegnon’s chance with an acceleration of pace in the final third – the sort of patience and precision they preach at St George’s Park. Straight out of the FA handbook, they will be replaying it on a loop for a few weeks.
‘I would’ve liked a few more similar passing sequences,’ Boothroyd said. ‘We do look to play a style that people will enjoy. But we also dug in, took that physical onslaught. You’ve got to be able to do both as an international player. We managed to grind it out.’
Having a striker in serious form helps too, of course, and Eddie Nketiah is in one of those grooves that all crave, possessing the confidence to not only pick the dawdling Austria captain Dario Maresic’s pocket, but then to gallop goalwards and impishly dink over the goalkeeper on 27 minutes.
That self-assurance inside the box transmits elsewhere, too, and it has been noted during this camp that the current captain is beginning to show promising signs of improved link-up play.
He has spoken at length of bulking up in his parents’ makeshift gym and studying how best he can affect games differently, with teammates noting a more robust centre forward.
Austria were obviously smarting from a shock 5-1 home defeat by Albania last week. Their energy was up but finishing off until Barnsley’s Patrick Schmidt did pull one back on the hour; Aaron Ramsdale may feel he could have stopped the effort. England were not always defensively sound but they would not surrender a two-goal cushion.