The image was inconsistent with the carefree nature of the half: there stood Jesse Lingard, hands on his hips, muttering as he looked up at the sky.
Gareth Southgate would have liked to see the England players have a smile on their faces against San Marino – this was a rare match when the challenge was how big the final score would be – so the sight of Lingard cursing in the 28th minute, after a pass on Reece James skewed, caught your attention.
Here was the action of a man desperate to impress.
Jesse Lingard had no problem showing his frustrations when he left for England on Thursday
The West Ham loan midfielder was desperate to impress Wembley against San Marino
There was a long time in between dances for Lingard in an England jersey – 656 days to be exact – and you could see how much it meant to him to be on this stage again.
So what if San Marino were the adversaries? For all those who roll their eyes over the standard of Thursday night’s Wembley attendees, all you needed to do was talk to the men Southgate called up for this triple header to understand what it meant for them to represent England.
John Stones, for example, couldn’t stop beaming on Tuesday as he talked about ending his international break, but for Lingard, the sense of accomplishment was perhaps even deeper: two months ago, such a scenario would have been possible.
He put in a long-range effort on goal as he wanted to show Gareth Southgate his qualities
The first half of this season for Lingard can safely be described as miserable; his action limited to 99 minutes over two games in the Carabao Cup, against Luton and Brighton, plus 80 minutes against Watford in the FA Cup.
How could he ever expect to play for England?
Even after being loaned out to West Ham, not even his biggest fan would have considered attending the European Championship. Football, however, is the never-say-never game, and fate gave Lingard a route back.
Of course it helps if you have the confidence of managers.
David Moyes has known all about Lingard since he was a young man at Old Trafford and approved a loan to Birmingham in 2013 to help with his education – Moyes wanted him to see how he coped with a demanding crowd on his back.
Lingard has become inspired in recent weeks, but was eager to make the point about England’s duty
The move was inspired (Lingard got off to a flying start scoring four goals on his debut against Sheffield Wednesday) and shortly thereafter was brought under the wing of Southgate as he was in charge of the England Under 21.
During a period where he struggled with injuries, Southgate always made it a point to check him by name on roster announcements and made it clear there would be a place for him if he was fit and available. That is still the case for about eight years.
“He’s shown a lot of support and confidence in me,” Lingard acknowledged earlier this week.
‘He was the first to give me my England debut, which I am proud of. I still kept in touch with him even though I wasn’t just playing to get his advice on what to do. ‘
There was something fitting about Lingard, making his debut in Southgate’s first game in charge of the seniors against Malta in October 2016 and returning for the head coach’s 50th game.
He had no reason to be frustrated with his showing, but his fight could be key to cracking Euros side
It explained why he was so eager to make an impact, starting for the first time since the Nations League bronze medal playoff against Switzerland in June 2019. He was all over the place in the first exchanges and buzzed like crazy in holes. .
He had the first shot on goal in the 11th minute, but Elia Benedettini, the San Marino goalkeeper, was right; there was another attempt in the 23rd minute that was blocked as he pushed his lines to Ben Chilwell’s cross at 35th minutes.
Just before half time it looked certain he would score, but Benedettini – who wasn’t playing as a reserve for an Italian third division squad – showed great agility to land and avert a sideways effort from Raheem Sterling’s cut .
If he felt frustrated, there was no reason to be. Lingard ultimately helped the statisticians knock off Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s second goal in the 53rd minute, but there was more to this feat than numbers.
It was all about a footballer with great resilience: such an attitude could perhaps carry him all the way to the European Championship.