The image was out of keeping with the carefree nature of the half: there stood Jesse Lingard, hands on his hips, muttering as he looked up to the heavens.
Gareth Southgate had wanted to see England’s players have smiles on their faces against San Marino – this being a rare fixture when the challenge was how big the final score would be – so the sight of Lingard cursing in the 28th minute, after a pass to Reece James went askew, grabbed your attention.
Here was the action of a man desperate to impress.
Jesse Lingard had no issue showing his frustrations as he started for England on Thursday
The on-loan West Ham midfielder was desperate to impress at Wembley against San Marino
It had been a long time between dances for Lingard in an England jersey – 656 days to be precise – and you could see how much it meant to him to be back on this stage.
So what if San Marino were the opponents? For all those who roll their eyes about the standard of Thursday night’s visitors to Wembley, you only had to speak to the men Southgate had called up for this triple-header to appreciate what it meant to them to be representing England.
John Stones, for instance, could not stop beaming on Tuesday as he talked about ending his international hiatus but for Lingard, the sense of achievement was arguably even more profound: two months ago, such a scenario would have seemed possible.
He took a long-range effort at goal as he looked to show Gareth Southgate his qualities
The first half of this season for Lingard could safely be described as wretched; his action limited to 99 minutes over two appearances in the Carabao Cup, against Luton and Brighton, plus 80 minutes against Watford in the FA Cup.
How could he possibly expect to play for England?
Even after he joined West Ham on loan, not even his biggest fan would have considered going to the European Championships a possibility. Football, however, is the game in which you should never say never and fate presented Lingard with a route back.
It helps, of course, when you have the trust of managers.
David Moyes has known all about Lingard since he was a young man at Old Trafford and sanctioned 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 been inspired in recent weeks but was keen to make the point on England duty
The move was inspired (Lingard got off to a flying start by scoring four goals on his debut against Sheffield Wednesday) and soon after he was taken under Southgate’s wing when he was in charge of England’s Under-21s.
During a spell when he struggled with injuries, Southgate always made a point of namechecking him at squad announcements and made it clear there would be a place for him when he was fit and available. Some eight years, that continues to be the case.
‘He’s shown a lot of support and a lot of belief in me,’ Lingard acknowledged earlier this week.
‘He was the first one to give me my England debut, which I’m proud of. I still kept in contact with him, even though I wasn’t playing just to get his advice on what I should do.’
There was something fitting about Lingard, who made his debut in Southgate’s first match in charge of the seniors against Malta in October 2016, returning for the head coach’s 50th game.
He had no reason to be frustrated with his display but his fight could be key to crack Euros side
It explained, then, why he was so eager to make an impact, starting for the first time since the Nations League bronze medal play-off against Switzerland in June 2019. He was everywhere in the opening exchanges, buzzing frantically into gaps.
He had the first shot on target in the 11th minute but Elia Benedettini, the San Marino goalkeeper, was equal to it; there was another attempt in the 23rd minute that was blocked while he fluffed his lines running onto Ben Chilwell’s 35th minute cross.
Just before half-time, it looked certain he would score but Benedettini – who didn’t play like a reserve at a third division Italian side – showed terrific agility to get down and turn away a side-footed effort from Raheem Sterling’s cutback.
If he felt frustrated, there was no reason to be. Lingard, eventually, made a contribution for the statisticians when teeing up Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s second goal in the 53rd minute but there was more to this performance than numbers.
This was all about a footballer showing great powers of recovery: such an attitude might just carry him all the way to the European Championships.