Gareth Southgate’s pleas for England supporters not to jeer his players taking a knee were defied as the Three Lions laboured to a 1-0 victory over Romania in their final Euro 2020 warm-up game.
After a minority booed the stance ahead of Wednesday’s win over Austria, Southgate urged fans to back the decision of his squad to show their solidarity against racism and inequality.
But the jeers returned to the Riverside Stadium for the second time in five days, where an experimental and inexperienced England earned victory through captain Marcus Rashford’s second-half penalty.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Jadon Sancho struck the crossbar in a first half of minimal quality from the hosts, while Jordan Henderson’s return from injury was marred slightly when he saw a penalty saved late on as he was unable to follow in Rashford’s footsteps from the spot.
A smattering of derogatory chants from a small number in the crowd and a first-half pitch invader only added to the ill-feel from the stands as 6,952 supporters watched on – with numbers slowly growing as coronavirus restrictions lift.
There are due to be 22,500 in attendance for the Euro 2020 opener against Croatia at Wembley next week, where the reaction to taking the knee will be seen across the continent.
Southgate made nine changes from the Austria victory as three of those players cut from his 26-man squad started.
Ben White, Ben Godfrey and James Ward-Prowse will be hoping to be the one called up to replace the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold and it was the latter who caught the eye.
Captain Harry Kane was named on the bench, with Rashford wearing the armband for the first time as the only player in the starting XI to have won more than 20 senior caps.
But it remains to be seen how many of this side will start against Croatia – especially with the seven Champions League finalists returning to contention following an extended break.
Rashford saw a penalty claim denied as he went down following a challenge from former Tottenham defender Vlad Chiriches.
Alexandru Paun’s acrobatic effort called debutant Sam Johnstone into action, while England failed to have a shot on target in the opening half-hour.
They came within inches of a breakthrough, however, when Calvert-Lewin’s looping header from a Ward-Prowse cross cannoned back off the crossbar.
The woodwork was left rattling again soon after as Sancho’s curling strike beat Florin Nita in the Romania goal before crashing against the frame.
It would be the visitors who finished the first half brightly, with Deian Sorescu breaking into the box and testing Johnstone with a driven effort.
Henderson came on at the interval, replacing Kalvin Phillips for his first football in 106 days after undergoing groin surgery in February.
The Liverpool skipper was almost able to celebrate with his team-mates a minute after the restart as Calvert-Lewin got on the end of another fine Ward-Prowse delivery but could not turn the ball either side of Nita.
Ward-Prowse would test Nita with a direct free-kick shortly before the hour as England still laboured to create chances from open play.
A burst through the Romania half from Rashford ended with a tame left-footed strike well off-target.
Southgate would tweak England’s shape for the final 25 minutes as Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice came on for Ward-Prowse and Sancho.
Just moments later and the hosts had a penalty, Grealish adjudged to have been tripped by substitute Tiberiu Capusa.
Rashford stepped up and made no mistake from the spot to break the deadlock with Johnstone keeping England ahead with a fine stop from a close-range Andrei Ivan strike.
Henderson had a fine chance to toast his comeback with a first England goal on his 59th cap but he saw a penalty saved after Calvert-Lewin had been bundled over by Chiriches.
Bellingham and Ollie Watkins came close to doubling England’s lead late on but it was another slender 1-0 win for Southgate and his side in their final dress rehearsal ahead of the European Championship.