LENS, France (AP) Jamie Vardy equalized with his third touch of the ball. Daniel Sturridge scored the winning goal in the first minute of injury time.
England’s halftime substitutes came up big.
Emboldened by some aggressive changes by coach Roy Hodgson, England rallied to beat Wales 2-1 Thursday in an all-British match at the European Championship to go to the top of Group B.
Gareth Bale put Wales ahead in the 42nd minute by scoring his second long-range free kick of the tournament, forcing Hodgson into some bold halftime changes that belied his reputation as a defensive-minded coach.
Vardy took 11 minutes to score, pouncing on a miscued headed clearance by Wales captain Ashley Williams to hook in a finish from six meters. Sturridge also perked up England’s attack with his movement and probing runs, and scored the winner after forcing his way into the area, shoving aside his marker and finishing right-footed inside the near post.
“The manager made some positive changes,” said captain Wayne Rooney, who was one of four England strikers on the field when Sturridge scored. “And it paid off for us.”
Hodgson’s choice and timing of substitutions was criticized against Russia on Saturday – England conceded a late goal to draw 1-1 – but he got it right at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis. The England coach had also thrown on teenage Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford in search of the winner before Sturridge scored.
England’s celebrations were manic at the corner flag, with goalkeeper Joe Hart racing the length of the field to join in.
From looking in a weak position in the group, the English now find themselves in first place and cannot finish lower than third, likely earning a spot in the last 16 in this enlarged tournament.
“Congrats to Roy,” Wales coach Chris Coleman said. “He made some good substitutions and we knew they would push us back … We are gutted but we have to move on.”
Wales has three points going into its last group match against Russia on Monday. After a challenging start to the tournament on and off the field, England can look to its group closer against Slovakia with renewed optimism.
Hart was the last to reach England’s mass of celebrating players following Sturridge’s goal, and likely was breathing a sigh of relief after being at fault for Bale’s latest goal from a free kick.
The Real Madrid forward had led the sniping and jibes coming from the Welsh camp in the build-up to the game, calling England the “enemy” and saying Wales had more passion than its neighbor.
He backed up all his straight-talking with another set-piece goal – but again there were question marks over the goalkeeper trying to save it.
Against Slovakia on Saturday, Matus Kozacik was deceived by the flight of Bale’s strike. Hart’s movement was also disappointing, the goalkeeper appearing to dive to his left too late and only managing to push the ball into the corner of the net.
Bale – Wales’ one world-class player – had been kept quiet until his goal, with Raheem Sterling and Gary Cahill squandering close-range chances for England. By the end of the first half, Sterling was being jeered by England fans for his sloppy play and was substituted at halftime along with the equally ineffective Harry Kane.
Vardy’s impact strengthened his claims to start ahead of Kane against Slovakia. He was Leicester’s top scorer with 24 goals in the team’s surprising Premier League title triumph last season and has now scored in four of his last five England appearances.
“We are all in this together and when you come off the bench you want to make an impact,” Vardy said. “Luckily, I did today.”
The victory ended a winless run of five games for Hodgson in major tournaments.
“We thought a lot about what the starting 11 should be but I didn’t want to start breaking eggs with a big stick,” Hodgson said. “I thought I would keep one or two up my sleeve.”