Marcus Rashford to his credit, told everyone how it would be. In a chamber, deep inside Wembley on Friday night, he articulated his feelings of the games when his score sheet is blank.
‘When you play well and your team wins, of course you’re very happy,’ the Manchester United striker explained. ‘But when you go home, you’re automatically looking back at the game and thinking: ‘Where could you have got your goals?’ It haunts you.’ A penny for his thoughts today.
Rashford, on the eve of England’s latest Euro 2020 qualifier, made a point of showing his hunger for goals by stating that anything Harry Kane does, he wants to do too; regularly in shooting drills at St George’s Park, he will try to go strike-for-strike with his captain.
England captain Harry Kane scored a hat-trick as they cruised to victory against Bulgaria
If he can do it on the practice ground, Rashford is still waiting for the moment to do it on the big stage. As Kane headed off with the match ball, his reward for ruthless hat-trick that included two penalties, Rashford trudged off at the final whistle with frustration leaping from his every pore.
Bulgaria are a pale shadow, in terms of talent, of the nation that contested the 1994 World Cup semi-finals. The offered obduracy here but this was always going to be a game in which England’s main objective was going to be improving their goal difference.
Kane, certainly, took his chance. His treble took his international tally up to 25. It won’t be long before he surpasses Nat Lofthouse, Tom Finney and Alan Shearer, who are joint sixth with 30, and given the paucity of quality in Group A, he could even do it before this qualification campaign ends.
Rashford, though, remains stuck on seven goals. He is United’s top gun, following the moves of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez, but some wonder whether he is a natural striker and Michael Owen – who plundered 40 goals in his England career – raised his doubts this week.
The Tottenham striker took his tally to 25 goals for England with a ruthless treble on Saturday
‘Players like Robbie Fowler, Sergio Aguero or Harry Kane – these people who are obsessed with goals,’ said Owen. ‘I don’t think he is obsessed with goals. I don’t think scoring goals is what he goes to bed craving. I think it is overall performance, chipping in with goals, assists, everything.’
Clearly Rashford is aware of the chatter. He took Owen’s observation on board but argued that it bothers him to distraction when he doesn’t make a mark on the statisticians. Watching him against Bulgaria, he was true to his word.
He started with a point to prove, of that there was no doubt. Twice inside the first four minutes, Rashford pounced on hesitancy in Bulgaria’s defence and snapped into tackles. Gareth Southgate has emphasised the need to make every second count and treat every action with importance.
You could never fault Rashford’s application, not for a second. You only have to spend a few moments in his company to appreciate how driven and desperate he is to continue fulfilling his potential – he has been around so long you can easily forget he is just 21.
England forward Marcus Rashford is still waiting for the moment to do it on the big stage
His reputation has always been towering but reputation means nothing in Southgate’s eyes and with Jadon Sancho snapping away at his heels, Rashford will only continue as a starter in this team if he continues to produce big performances.
This, though, was no easy contest. Bulgaria had a couple of bright counterattacks but their threat was sporadic and the aim was to keep England at bay for as long as possible; the visitors did that stubbornly but they were assisted, also, by the hosts’ lack of tempo.
England did not move the ball quick enough, which was a mistake given the pace that was waiting at the top of the field. Rashford and Raheem Sterling have speed that can disintegrate defences but Bulgaria, initially, refused to give them the areas to exploit.
As they kept running down dead ends, it led to Rashford’s impatience bubbling over. In the 23rd minute, with no options around and Red shirts blocking his progress, Rashford decided to shoot – but succeeded only in sending his effort halfway up the West Stand.
When the ball was returned, Bulgaria made a hash of playing out from the back and England took the lead, Sterling scuttling to the touchline and cutting back for Kane, who finished with aplomb. He wheeled away, celebrating nonchalantly. Rashford wondered what might have been.
That theme continued all the way through. Rashford saw plenty of the ball and never gave Bulgaria’s back four a moment’s piece but the opportunity he craved to inflict maximum damage failed to arrive. He won the penalty that led to Kane’s second but did not have the chance to take it.
‘Harry’s record is unbelievable and that’s a way for him to get his goals,’ said Rashford. ‘The players, the squad, the staff all support that.’ Strikers, however, are ruthless and you can bet Rashford would have loved to have stepped up. He desperately wanted to score but the last sign it was not going to be his night arrived in the 87th minute when, after exchanging passes with Ross Barkley, he chipped a weak shot at Plamen Illiev.
There will, of course, be other days but this one did not go how Rashford envisaged. He will be thinking about it all the way until Tuesday when England face Kosovo. He told us so.