89:59 – What Watkins' winner tells us about this England side


89:59. With just a second to spare, Ollie Watkins wrote his name into England’s football history.

Print that time stamp on a t-shirt. The latest late winner from England at these Euros. The latest ever winner at a Euros in normal time.

It was a super-sub moment which had his team-mates heaping praise on the likeable Aston Villa ace and onlookers recounting his remarkable rise from Weston-super-Mare and now on to Berlin.

But Watkins’ goal also tells us a lot about this England side as a whole: where they’ve been, what they’ve become and how their leader, Gareth Southgate, has evolved.

From standing by to boldly rolling the dice…

ESPN's Mark Ogden and The Telegraph's Jason Burt debate whether Gareth Southgate will remain England manager after Euro 2024.
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Gareth Southgate celebrates with his players and the England supporters

For so long it was Southgate’s biggest weakness. A prime target for his critics. The image of him stood on the touchline, declining or reluctant or unsure of how to intervene felt like it would become a damning reflection of his in-game management of the national team.

There have been examples of that hesitancy in Germany. His decision to sub on Anthony Gordon in the 89th minute of the bore draw with Slovenia. His decision to wait until 90+4 to turn to Ivan Toney, when England were trailing Slovakia in the last 16.

Match-winner Ollie Watkins is congratulated by Gareth Southgate
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Match-winner Ollie Watkins is congratulated by Gareth Southgate

But Southgate’s calls have been vindicated in these knockout stages. Time and again, England have found a way to get over the line. And with that success Southgate has become bolder and more confident with his interventions.

Hooking Harry Kane and Phil Foden, England’s best player on the night, against the Netherlands was decisive, with their replacements Watkins and Cole Palmer combining for the winner.

Kane is no longer untouchable

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Harry Kane feels England are improving after every game and the victory over Netherlands is the ‘best performance by far’.

A trait of England’s failures in the past was managers would unflinchingly stand by their star names. The untouchables. Kane once held that status, too. But on Wednesday night, for the first time in his career, he was taken off in normal time with England needing a goal in a knockout game.

His fitness is in question. His form isn’t razor sharp. But while his penalty goal – which made him the top scorer in Euros knockout games – underlined he is still a huge figure for this side (and he will certainly start the final), he is no longer guaranteed to play until the final whistle.

Watkins and Toney’s double threat

Watkins or Toney? Which one would you rather have in your squad? The answer, of course, is both. And with the expanded squad sizes for this Euros Southgate was able to give himself the luxury of being able to replace Kane with either target man and penalty king Toney or the nippy runner-in-behind Watkins. They have both played crucial roles in Germany.

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Rob Dorsett looks back at England’s last gasp victory over Netherlands in the Euro 2024 semi-final.

England’s strength in depth

And perhaps England’s greatest strength is the amount of options they have on the bench. Substitutes? ‘Finishers’ seems more appropriate. That was the term used by former England rugby union boss Eddie Jones and Southgate liked it.

Watkins and Palmer here, before Conor Gallagher – the frantic one-man pressing machine in extra-time against Slovakia – and Ezri Konsa were sent on to see it through. Ebe Eze for a spark. Jarrod Bowen and Gordon out wide. Trent Alexander-Arnold to take a penalty against Switzerland.

A big win for Southgate is how he has kept the entire group engaged and connected over the past month. The majority of the 26 have played a part.

Another late goal shows team’s mentality

England
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John Stones and Kyle Walker celebrate England’s win over the Netherlands

Bellingham’s bicycle kick. Saka’s stunner. And now Watkins’ wonderful winner. England have repeatedly grasped glory in the final moments. This is a team which has looked out on its feet, drained at the end of a long season. But their character and mentality has helped them squeeze through. Determined defence. One last push in attack. Now they need to go again one more time…

Another goal down right side – even with Shaw the team still has limitations

Kane’s extra-time header against Slovakia came from a central shot from Eze nodded across goal by Toney. Other than that, every open play goal scored by England at the Euros has come down the right side. Watkins’ winner followed that pattern.

Even with left-footer Luke Shaw replacing Kieran Trippier at half time here, England struggled to produce the same threat down the left flank. It leaves them unbalanced and predictable in their attacking play. Spain will know what’s coming.

But they have momentum and belief going into the final…

Watkins led the celebrations after the match. Pushed forward by his team-mates to conduct the crowd as they sung their song about going to Berlin. England head to the capital with momentum and belief after his late stunner. Will that be enough to stop a more-fancied Spain?

Watkins has proven this is an England team which should never be written off. Even with one second to go…



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