Gareth Southgate’s four-game tenure as England’s interim manager ended in disappointment as Spain scored twice in the closing moments to snatch a draw in the Wembley friendly.
England looked on course to further bolster Southgate’s claims to succeed Sam Allardyce as they impressed and took control through Adam Lallana’s early penalty, awarded when Spain keeper Pepe Reina hauled down Jamie Vardy.
The Leicester City striker’s fine diving header from Jordan Henderson’s cross just after the break gave England a lead they did not look like relinquishing as the clock ticked down.
Former Liverpool striker Iago Aspas’ superb curling finish in the 90th minute gave Spain an unlikely lifeline – and England allowed them to complete the comeback as Isco smuggled home a far-post finish between England substitute keeper Tom Heaton’s legs in the fifth and final minute of injury time.
Gareth Southgate won two and drew two of his four matches in temporary charge
A friendly against an understrength Spain was never going to be a deal-breaker when it came to measuring Southgate’s suitability to be England’s next permanent manager.
It was, for 89 minutes at least, a very good night for the 46-year-old and an excellent way to conclude what has effectively been a four-game audition to take over from Allardyce.
Until that unexpected turn of events, the former Middlesbrough boss will surely have relished England dominating a Spain team that had looked unrecognisable from the team that would have contested a competitive fixture.
The hosts looked to be heading for a record of three wins and a draw from Southgate’s quartet of fixtures, though the result is unlikely to deprive him of the chance to become England’s next permanent boss.
However, it was not the finish he would have expected – or wanted – after Spain’s late show.
Liverpool midfielder Lallana may have only lasted 25 minutes before going off injured, but in that short time he emphasised once more what a mature, developing international player he is and how important he will be to England’s future.
Elegant and composed, he slid a superb pass through for Vardy to win the penalty that Lallana converted emphatically.
And while he went off shortly afterwards, his goalscoring, man of the match display in the 3-0 World Cup qualifying win over Scotland, and his match-winning goal in Slovakia, underlines that he is now a figure of real influence for England.
What a mixed bag for Southgate and England – from the pleasure of taking a two-goal lead to the pain of its concession in the closing minutes.
Southgate will surely be delighted with how the team looked in attack, even with captain Wayne Rooney injured and striker Daniel Sturridge on the bench.
Vardy showed flashes of last season’s form, while Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard linked up in promising fashion throughout.
Eric Dier made his 13th appearance for England in 2016, more than any other player. The Three Lions have scored in 13 of their past 15 games, but conceded for the first time in their past five.
Vardy scored his first goal in 15 games for club and country. England have lost just one of their past 12 internationals, winning seven and drawing four. Inigo
The Football Association needs to decide whether Southgate is the right man for the job.
If he is appointed then his first game in permanent charge of England is scheduled to be a friendly against Germany in Dortmund on 22 March.