Harry Kane’s moment of brilliance saves ponderous England but leaves Gareth Southgate with questions

Harry Kane’s moment of brilliance saves ponderous England but leaves Gareth Southgate with questions

Harry Kane offered another reminder, as if needed, as to why the debate over his role for England has long felt misguided, as the captain's moment of quality rescued a point for Gareth Southgate's side in a 1-1 draw with Ukraine.

Kane always faces fierce scrutiny for dropping deep in search of the ball rather than playing as a more traditional No9 for his country, but his magnificent assist for Kyle Walker shortly before half-time was England's best moment in a drab display.

His inch-perfect pass for Walker, who scored his first England goal on his 77th cap, was at odds with a ponderous display by the visitors, in which they struggled to match Ukraine's intensity and trailed to Oleksandr Zinchenko's well-worked goal.

It underlined that Kane has the talent to be both a goal-scorer and England chief creator - and that should not be considered a bad thing for Southgate's side.

The upshot of another influential display from the England captain, however, was a frustrating evening for James Maddison, Kane's successor as Spurs' number ten and creative force.

Picked ahead of Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford for his first competitive England start, Maddison started brightly but faded, surely a consequence of Kane occupying the same areas in search of the ball.

Maddison was handed a free role from the left, with licence to drop into space and allow Jude Bellingham to gallop beyond him, but he struggled to exert the same influence he does for Spurs and his frustration was reflected in a first-half booking for a petulant kick on Illia Zabarnyi.

Maddison cut a despondent figure when he was replaced after 66 minutes by Foden, knowing he has so much more to offer in an England shirt and that these chances may prove few and far between given the depth of Southgate's squad.

The question now is whether there is space for a player like Maddison to operate next to Kane in the front three. England have normally looked most balanced and threatening with two direct wingers like Bukayo Saka, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford running beyond Kane.

A more exciting approach from Southgate would have been to play Maddison in the midfield three, as Ange Postecoglou is doing for Spurs, though the England manager stuck with Jordan Henderson, who kept his place alongside Declan Rice and Bellingham in England's first game since his move to Saudi Arabia.

Given the quality at Southgate's disposal, it was another safe selection, and a reminder that England often feel far more comfortable in tournament-mode, even during qualifying matches.

Roared on by a magnificent crowd of expats in Wroclaw, Poland, Ukraine took full advantage of the visitors’ hesitancy and led when Arsenal's Zinchenko finished coolly from a cutback, raising the roof off the ground.

England did raise the tempo after the break, Saka striking the crossbar and seeing a penalty appeal waved away, but overall it was a clunky display, which will again raise the old questions about Southgate's conservatism and continued faith in the old guard.

Tuesday's friendly against in-form Scotland at Hampden Park offers a chance for some experimentation and a place for Maddison or perhaps Foden in the midfield three would be an exciting way to respond to a first setback in Euro 2024 qualifying.