Lacklustre England beaten in Hungary with Reece James punished by dubious decision

England defender Reece James after conceding a penalty against Hungary

England began their UEFA Nations League campaign with a 1-0 defeat to Hungary after the Three Lions were punished by a dubious Reece James penalty call.

Gareth Southgate handed debuts to James Justin and Jarrod Bowen as England kicked off their UEFA Nations League campaign in Hungary. Justin took up the left wing-back role, while Bowen operated on the right side of Harry Kane in the front three.

England survived a nervy moment when Jordan Pickford spilled a long-range effort back into the danger area. Thankfully for the stopper, no Hungary player was close enough to capitalise.

Bowen looked lively in the early going with England finding occasional joy through the long ball. But it was Hungary once again who threatened the scoresheet with Dominik Szoboszlai inches away from breaking the deadlock.

The talismanic attacker squirmed his strike through the onrushing Pickford after latching on to an accurate pull-back down Justin’s side. But for the intervention of Conor Coady clearing off the line, England would’ve fallen behind.

The contest remained surprisingly even, though Justin quickly found his feet at international level when pushing on down the left. He provided a constant outlet on the touchline and was influencing proceedings more than Trent Alexander-Arnold on the opposite flank.

Yet it was Hungary who continued to pose the biggest threat and the hosts almost took the lead in spectacular fashion.

Pickford’s narrow escape

An England attack was crowded out around the centre circle before the ball broke to Adam Szalai. The ball sat up nicely for the striker to try his luck with an audacious long-range lob from the half-way line.

Pickford scrambled back and was beaten, though his blushes were spared with the ball curling narrowly wide.

Alexander-Arnold spurned several opportunities to make his mark on the match from set pieces. The Liverpool superstar struggled to find his range when repeatedly overhitting corners. His struggles were symptomatic of an England side that never truly got going in Budapest.

Southgate replaced Justin with Bukayo Saka to begin the second-half. Justin didn’t put a foot wrong on his senior debut, though was struggling with a knee complaint mid-way through the first 45.

The Arsenal flyer was straight into the action with a lung-busting run and strike injecting a much needed burst of energy into England’s display.

Reece James, John Stones and Jack Grealish were introduced in a triple change on the hour mark. If England were to kick off their Nations League campaign with a win, they had half an hour to buck up their ideas.

Suspect Reece James call haunts England

James made an immediate impact on proceedings, though it was far from the one he’d have envisioned.

The full-back leaned into a Hungary forward when cushioning a long ball back to Pickford. While there was obvious contact, the decision to award a penalty can only be described as soft at best.

Szoboszlai kept his cool from the spot to slot past Pickford despite diving the right way.

James came close to making up for putting England behind. His accurate free-kick found Coady in the area, but the centre-back’s glanced header drifted agonisingly wide of the post.

Hungary should’ve doubled the lead with 10 minutes remaining when Pickford parried a Laszlo Kleinheisler’s shot straight back into the danger area. Fortunately for the Everton stopper, the rebound was scooped over the bar with the goal gaping.

Kane rifled an effort into the side netting late on. That was to be England’s last attempt at reversing their 1-0 defeat to Hungary on an afternoon where they never got out of second gear.