Townsend rescues England with stunning strike

Three Lions remain unbeaten since last year's World Cup after Tottenham winger's goal

(Image credit: Getty)

Italy 1 England 1. A stunning second-half goal from Andros Townsend earned England a draw against Italy in the Juventus Stadium and continued the Three Lions' unbeaten run since returning from last year's World Cup.

It's now nine games in a row unbeaten but England were made to work hard by a new-look Italian side. Southampton striker Graziano Pelle's gave the hosts the lead on the half-hour mark with a header that beat Joe Hart but the England keeper did well to keep out Marco Parolo's 25-yard effort.

England in truth were poor in the first half with manager Roy Hodgson's experiment of playing Phil Jones in a defensive midfield role clearly a failure. When Chris Smalling retired ill just before half-time, Jones reverted to his preferred position in defence and Michael Carrick came off the bench and into midfield.

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England came out after the break with more attacking intent and the introduction on 55 minutes of Ross Barkley for the disappointing Theo Walcott gave the visitors a real edge to their game. Barkley's strong, direct running unnerved the Italian defence and suddenly England began creating chances.

Harry Kane and Kieran Gibbs both went close with shots and Wayne Rooney forced veteran Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon into a sharp save, but it was from an unlikely source that the equaliser eventually came.

Townsend, who has struggled to hold down a place in the Tottenham side this season, surged towards the Italian penalty area on 79 minutes before unleashing a rasping right-footed shot past Buffon. It was a brilliant strike from the substitute who had only been on the pitch for nine minutes, and the 23-year-old said later: "I have just been desperate to get on the pitch and silence a few critics. Hopefully they can realise the quality I bring to the team."

One of those critics was former Arsenal and England midfielder Paul Merson, who earlier in the week had questioned Townsend's right to be in the squad given his patchy club form this season. Townsend replied to Merson on Twitter a couple of hours after the match, asking: "Not bad for a player that should be 'nowhere near the squad' ay @PaulMerse?"

Hodgson must also have taken some quiet satisfaction at Townsend's display, though he was more tempered in his language than the Spurs man. "I stuck by him because of the qualities he brings," explained Hodgson. "We've always appreciated that quality he has. In a squad of 20-odd players, there should be a place for guys like him because he's a game changer."

Yet despite his pleasure at the second-half performance, Hodgson conceded that if England are to have any chance of winning next year's European Championships they have to play well over the full ninety minutes: "The second half was very good, the first half nowhere near the performances we look for, nowhere near the standards that we have set," he said. "You don't forget anything that happens at international level as a player of coach and we will hopefully learn from that."

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