Ollie Watkins celebrates his goal against Australia

England 1-0 Australia: Can Ollie Watkins be Harry Kane’s understudy?

Ollie Watkins celebrates his goal against AustraliaOllie Watkins has scored two hat-tricks this season

Ollie Watkins was on the scoresheet again, 563 days after his last England appearance and goal.

The in-form Aston Villa striker made the most of his long-awaited opportunity to impress Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate once again with the winner in Friday’s otherwise low-key friendly with Australia.

“It has been a long time coming,” Watkins told Channel 4.

“I have been waiting a long time for the next call-up. I was looking forward to it and I wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip.

“I knew I wasn’t going to come off this pitch without the goal, that was in my mind.”

Has Watkins now jumped to the front of the queue to be Harry Kane’s understudy in the striker role?

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Making his mark

Harry Kane applauds the fans at Wembley on FridayHarry Kane was an unused substitute for England against Australia

As England captain and with a record 59 goals for his country, Kane’s place in Southgate’s team is never in doubt.

But what is perhaps less obvious is who replaces the Bayern Munich striker if he is injured.

Watkins’ return to the England team was reward for his excellent form at Aston Villa so far this season.

Under Unai Emery, Watkins has hit seven goals in all competitions – including two hat-tricks – and looked sharp and hungry throughout his return to international football.

His goal was his third in eight games for the Three Lions.

Southgate’s other options include Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford, Newcastle’s Callum Wilson, Ivan Toney of Brentford and Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah.

With 55 caps, Rashford is the most experienced of Southgate’s options and he has scored 16 goals for England, but is often more effective out wide.

Wilson, meanwhile, has nine caps for England and has scored two goals, while Toney and Nketiah have just one cap each, the latter making his debut on Friday.

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“Watkins has everything to put pressure on Kane,” former Australia and Leeds forward Harry Kewell said on Channel 4.

“He is powerful, strong and quick, and the one thing defenders are scared of is speed.”

“I’d say he’s probably playing as well as I’ve ever seen him,” ex-England and Liverpool midfielder Danny Murphy said.

“He looks fit, strong and confident. He’s got real intent in his play. He’s good with the ball now and he’s always been good at running in behind.

“He’s relentless as well, he just doesn’t stop.”

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‘Watkins shows determination to make his mark’

BBC Sport chief football writer Phil McNulty: Watkins’ decisive contribution to give England victory against Australia illustrated his determination to make an impact on his return to the international stage.

Aston Villa’s in-form striker last featured for England in March 2022 before starting and scoring the winner in England’s narrow victory at Wembley.

Watkins was not missing out on a gift when he turned in Grealish’s shot from virtually on the line, the simplest of tasks but one which clearly meant so much.

It was also a reward for his persistence because his first half did not exactly go to plan, when the faintest of touches off an Australia defender denied him a tap-in before he hit the post with an angled effort, a chance Watkins should have put away.

England captain Kane will always take his place up front but Watkins wants to be part of the battle to be his understudy and any goal counts as valuable currency in the argument, no matter how easy the chance.

Watkins knows places are still up for grabs in Southgate’s squad with qualification for Euro 2024 almost certainly assured barring a catastrophe, even before Tuesday night’s qualifier with Italy at Wembley.

He will be back on the bench against Italy but he will be satisfied knowing he has another England goal to his name, stressing his determination that this was his aim all night and he had no intention of leaving the Wembley pitch without achieving it.

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If Southgate is forced into the unthinkable at any point and has to do without Kane, he will be looking for important indicators from those who might take his place, and a winning goal – even in a friendly – never does any harm.

‘With a more forward-thinking manager, we would dominate world football’

Southgate said Friday’s game was a tough challenge for his inexperienced team.

“We made a lot of changes, that made it really difficult for the players,” he said.

“It is tough playing international when you haven’t got a lot of caps behind you. We were not cohesive, I gave them a really tough challenge.

“Australia were good, they were athletic and well organised. I am pleased for the win after putting them in the position.”

While England did what they needed to do to get the win, there were not many performances that will likely to give Southgate sleepless nights as he ponders his team for next Tuesday’s Euro 2024 qualifier against Italy.

The Three Lions can guarantee their place at next summer’s tournament in Germany with a win.

Despite the Australia game being just a friendly, former England and Liverpool defender Stephen Warnock believes the result could have been more emphatic with an attack-minded manager.

“I think Gareth’s far too negative,” he said on BBC Radio 5 live.

“I think with a more forward-thinking manager I think we’d dominate world football. I really do with this squad of players, they’re so exciting.

“I always think when you see the teamsheet you go “wow, look at the players on show”. However, when you know the manager you know it’s not going to be like that. It’s going to be more defensively rigid, but that’s disappointing.”

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