Demarai Gray and Tammy Abraham responded to their recalls to the England U21 starting XI by inspiring a 3-0 defeat of Latvia at the Vitality Stadium.
The two were unexpectedly substitutes in Friday’s 1-1 draw away to Holland, despite impressing throughout the summer’s European U21 Championship, and each scored as England earned the first win of their latest qualifying campaign.
Brighton’s Kasey Palmer, continuing the recent rise that had taken him into the Premier League, added the third in the second half.
Particularly significant was Gray’s contribution in front of watching Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe and coach Richard Hughes, who had targeted the Leicester forward during the summer transfer window and are expected to revisit their interest.
At what would become his home stadium should he make that move, the 21-year-old’s pace and belief secured England’s opening goal and provided a consistent attacking threat thereafter as England rose to second in Group 4.
Manager Aidy Boothroyd had made nine changes from the team that drew with the Dutch, retaining only recently-appointed captain Joe Gomez and Bournemouth midfielder Lewis Cook.
Those changes also meant debuts for seven of his starters: Andy Woodman, Tom Davies, Kyle Walker-Peters, Sheyi Ojo, Fikayo Tomori, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Palmer.
It was Abraham and Gray who combined in the 11th minute to provide England’s first true sight of goal. The former took advantage of space on the right wing to run and cut back to Gray, whose first-time shot was palmed away.
Only two minutes later they were again involved as England took the lead. Davies, Palmer and Abraham quickly exchanged passes and after Abraham fed Gray on the left wing, he cut inside on his right foot and curled inside the far post from the edge of the area.
In the 35th minute, with England increasingly comfortable in possession as has long been Boothroyd’s remit, Abraham created a goal for himself. A heavy touch from Latvia’s Ingars Stuglis allowed him to intercept, turn, run into space just outside the penalty box and shoot through the uncertain hands of goalkeeper Vladislavs Kurakins.
Their dominance largely continued from then until the final whistle, and with Boothroyd’s team rarely appearing to exert themselves. Demonstrating the composure and confidence that so many have taken from winning the summer’s U20 World Cup, a third goal eventually arrived in the 70th minute.
A burst of pace from Everton’s Davies created space for him to cross from the right, and when Kurakins clumsily spilled what should have been a routine catch in front of Palmer, the midfielder routinely finished from directly in front of goal.
Substitute Dominic Calvert-Lewin threatened a fourth in the 90th minute when turning and sending a curling left-footed effort towards the top left corner from 25 yards, but Kurakins impressively tipped away.
Victory leaves England with four points and behind first-placed Ukraine only on goal difference. They are also undefeated in 27 qualifiers, their last loss coming in November 2011 away to Belgium.