Danny Ings Shouldn't Be Overlooked as England's Main Backup Striker

In recent years, the intensity of the so-called 'competition' to be England's number nine has been something in-between that of a village tombola and a gentle game of tiddlywinks.

With Wayne Rooney sinking deeper into his autumn years and Daniel Sturridge cruelly denied a glittering England career due to injury, the excellence of Harry Kane has been more or less uncontested in England's forward line. And over the course a couple of injury-hit years of his own, he has barely had to sweat over the prospect of losing his spot up top.

From Andy Carroll (who did score one of England's recent great tournament goals against Sweden, to be fair), to Rickie Lambert, to Jamie Vardy, various backup strikers have been trialled over the years, but none have felt quite right (or in a lot of cases, quite good enough).

Gareth Southgate can depend on Harry Kane | Michael Regan/Getty Images

England fans might understandably have tempered their expectations when - perhaps urged on by his good friend José Mourinho - Gareth Southgate left Harry Kane out and took a punt on an entirely new strike partnership comprised of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Danny Ings in England's friendly against Wales.

In a 3-0 win where three different players scored their first ever England goal, Calvert-Lewin got the lion's share of the credit, and rightly so - the Everton man was a living nightmare for centre-back Chris Mepham, eluding his marker's attention time and time again and scoring the perfect strikers' goal after catching the Welshman ball watching.

Calvert-Lewin has exploded to the top of the Premier League goalscoring charts with six goals this season, and it's easy to see why he's regarded in some quarters as the natural backup for a mobile front three - he's the archetypal 'handful' in a tight game, with his perpetual motion, high work-rate and aerial ability enough to unsettle even the most disciplined of defences.

But often candidates for positional vacancies in a team arrive like London buses, and for England, the number nine bus has pulled up twice in a year after a delay of half a decade.

The other reliable service on Thursday was Danny Ings, a player who seems to have to do more for recognition than any other player in the country. In typical fashion, he had the misfortune of scoring a stunning overhead kick and finding that it was the third-most talked about event of the match after Calvert-Lewin's debut and Conor Coady's collectors item of a close-range finish.

The Southampton striker was something of a sacrificial lamb in England's set-up, playing wide right in a front three where Calvert-Lewin was able to slot in as a traditional number nine, while Jack Grealish started on the left but was given the freedom to roam.

Though this meant in the first half that the excellent Joe Rodon was able to pick up Ings' runs in the right channel fairly consistently, the Southampton man is always able to find a way. After Rodon was substituted at half-time, Ings had that smallest of windows that he required.

When a Tyrone Mings flick-on from a corner caused havoc in the Wales penalty box in the 62nd minute, Ings was the only man who seemingly knew what was going on, and facing the ball with his back to goal, in a position where many strikers would have wasted precious seconds by attempting to turn with the ball, the former Liverpool marksman had better idea.

The subsequent overhead kick, cleanly struck into the bottom-left corner of Wayne Hennessey's goal, was the perfect encapsulation of Ings, the combination of traditional opportunistic forward play with an eye for the spectacular.

Ings has finally broken back into the England squad | Pool/Getty Images

Ings is as much of a penalty-box menace as any other top-flight striker, bagging the most non-penalty goals in the Premier League last season.

And yet it is the variety to his game, the significant amount of ways through which he can hurt a team now that he is consistently fit, which shows why he shouldn't simply be regarded as a foil for Calvert-Lewin, but as genuine competition.

If one constructive criticism can be levelled at Calvert-Lewin right now, it's that he is almost too pure a poacher. While the level of debate around strikers has moved on from berating them for 'only scoring tap-ins', Calvert-Lewin's finishing is often weaker when he has time to think about it (look at his one-on-one miss against Brighton last season), and he rarely creates his own chances.

Ings is adept at finding a route to the goal | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Ings, on the other hand, has the gift of converting low-percentage passes into goals, as demonstrated by two uncannily similar strikes against Tottenham over the last year.

On both occasions (one in January, the other in September), he let a hopeful diagonal from around the halfway line drop over his shoulder before using his skill as a finisher to convert the chance - Toby Alderweireld was his helpless victim the first time, Eric Dier the second.

Indeed, his modus operandi as a striker is centred around taking the initiative, both taking on difficult chances for himself and using his trademark exuberance to force opposition mistakes.

His brace against Watford last season was the perfect fusion of these qualities - the first of his two goals came with him picking up the ball on the edge of the final third, beating one Watford player and with several more converging on him, slotting the ball into the bottom corner from the edge of the area with ease.

But in the spirit of a former Jürgen Klopp favourite, he is also a fearless runner on a football pitch - registering the third most attacking third pressures in the league last season - and his second goal was a product of this will to frighten the other team into an error.