Having celebrated with the mannequin challenge, England ended the night being made to look like dummies by Spain, two goals in the last five minutes undermining what should have been a memorable night at Wembley.
True, it was the part of the game that was ragged and broken by so many substitutions. England, by that time, had players making their debuts in goal and at left back.
Even so, it will have been desperately disappointing for Gareth Southgate to surrender what would have been an impressive victory over elite opposition, and so late in the day.
ENGLAND (4-2-3-1): Hart 6 (Heaton 46, 6.5); Clyne 7, Stones 7, Cahill 6.5 (Jagielka 46, 5.5), Rose 7 (Cresswell 79); Dier 6, Henderson 7.5; Lingard 7, Lallana 7 (Walcott 27, 6), Sterling 7 (Townsend 65, 6); Vardy 8 (Rashford 67, 6.5)
Subs not used: Walker, Sturridge, Keane, Wilshere, Bertrand, Pickford
Booked: Rose, Sterling, Walcott
Goals: Lallana 9 (pen), Vardy 48
Manager: Southgate 7.5
SPAIN (4-2-3-1): Reina 5; Carvajal 5, Martinez 5, Nacho 5, Azpilicueta 6; Busquets 5 (Nolito 78), Thiago 5.5 (Herrera 56, 6); Mata 5 (Aspas 46, 7), Silva 5 (Isco 64, 6.5), Vitolo 5 (Koke 46); Aduriz 5 (Morata 64, 6)
Subs not used: De Gea, Sergi, Bartra, Asenjo, Callejon, Monreal
Booked: Martinez, Carvajal, Aspas
Goals: Aspas 89, Isco 90+6
Forget about that old red herring, managing expectation. England have not had so many highlights in 2016 that they can afford to throw one away.
A dismal European Championship, beaten by Iceland, the Sam Allardyce debacle — here was the chance to go out on a high, and a deserved one.
There has been a revival, of sorts, under Southgate. Having recorded the biggest winning margin in 41 years against Scotland, with 89 minutes gone here, England were two goals to the good on Spain.
That would have been an excellent conclusion, sending Southgate and his players into 2017 with confidence. This had been a good performance, the players responsive to Southgate’s demands. In five minutes so much good work was tainted.
A defence yet to concede under Southgate let in two. A goalkeeper, Tom Heaton, whose first 45 minutes had been excellent ended up letting the last kick of the match through his legs. It wasn’t his fault, but he won’t feel that way.
So, no, the idea that England’s fans would have got too carried away had the lead been held, and that would have been a bad thing, is misplaced.
England need good news. Southgate needs good vibes. This result should not stop him getting the job, but it was a nuisance.
England were coasting, comfortable, two goals clear, when Southgate made his changes at the back. On came Phil Jagielka, on came Aaron Cresswell for his debut, replacing Danny Rose.
Both goals came down his side, sadly, although blame could be spread through midfielders who stopped running and loose markers in the middle, too.
Substitute Iago Aspas pulled the first one back for Spain with a minute remaining, taking it magnificently, cutting in from the right and rifling a shot across Heaton into the roof of the net.
Napoli’s former Liverpool stopper Reina looks on nervously with Leicester City hitman Vardy upended in the six-yard box
When referee Ovidiu Hategan signalled for five minutes added time, there was a little anxiety — but no one thought England would crumble a second time, having played so well for long periods.
Wrong. It was pretty much the last kick of the game that did it, Isco — another substitute — deftly flicking the ball through Heaton’s legs from an angle.
Spain celebrated, England’s players were still, this time in the horror of regret. It should have been their night.
The mannequin challenge — collectively freezing and holding a pose for a matter of seconds, no matter where you are, or what you are doing. England did it after their second goal went in, scored by Jamie Vardy.
Well, most of them did. John Stones and Heaton were the only exceptions, but their team-mates would not be too fussed by that.
Heaton had only been on the field a matter of minutes and no doubt wanted to stay focused, and Stones has been the subject of too many brickbats since his performance against Scotland to risk being accused of taking his responsibilities lightly.
On the touchline, Southgate wasn’t still, either. What a five-day stretch this has been for him with back to back results and performances that surely make his full-time appointment a certainty, despite the late slap in the chops.
It was 66 days since Jamie Vardy scored for club or country. That was on September 10 in Leicester’s 4-1 defeat by Liverpool. The striker has scored four goals all season, the first in the Community Shield.
FA chairman Greg Clarke may have sounded lukewarm in his programme notes, but there really is no cause for delay.
If this had been a foreign coach in charge — Arsene Wenger say, or flavour of the month Ralf Rangnick — the finger would have been pointed at England’s inability to keep the ball and hold a lead.
Welcome to Wembley, boys! Don’t worry, it’s always like this. It should be no different for Southgate. It wasn’t his fault that England tired so dramatically, became sloppy, and drew.
The part of the match that was largely down to him — how England set up in the first half — was a success.
England’s pressing game was accomplished and while it can be argued Spain had key players missing, so did England — Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Wayne Rooney, all of whom might have started. They also lost Adam Lallana to injury after 25 minutes, a significant blow.
So credit Southgate. His instructions were carried out to the letter before the many changes, England pressing well and intelligently, Spain looking uncertain with three at the back.
Jamie Vardy followed through on Cesar Azpilicueta’s leg with studs up. Hategan took no action but Vardy deserved a booking. A poor challenge by Raheem Sterling — raking his boot down an opponent’s shin — finally resulted in a card on 31 minutes, but it should have been red, not yellow.
Right until the late reverses there were plus signs: a first goal in 15 matches for Vardy, the continuance of excellent club and country form for Raheem Sterling and Lallana, and a better display from Stones — although he did give one migraine of a pass to Eric Dier, chest high, on his wrong foot, and with his back to 10 red shirts.
Still, as Southgate insists, with an ambitious style of play the odd mistake will occur and the challenge is damage limitation. England were good at that for 89 minutes.
Nobody here would have said they felt a Spain comeback was on the cards, even if Heaton made more saves than Joe Hart, and Spain were getting closer and closer as the minutes ticked away.
England led after nine minutes when Spain’s fledgling 3-4-3 system was exposed. It was a lovely ball from Lallana on the right to pick out Vardy.
Nacho missed his clearance and goalkeeper Pepe Reina overcommitted himself with Vardy in close attendance.
Silly man. Vardy always makes sure he comes into contact with any defender who lunges, and this was no exception.
It was a clear penalty — there were no complaints from Reina — and in the absence of Rooney, Lallana did the honours.
It was the perfect start for England, throwing Spain out of their stride, and making it all the more unfortunate that Lallana lasted just 16 minutes more.
It looked like a calf strain, and Liverpool will be hoping his hasty withdrawal was more precautionary than necessary.
As important as Lallana has been for England this season, the next international is in March. Liverpool’s title challenge is ongoing and Lallana has been vital to it.
Leicester fared better from international week, Vardy breaking a lengthy goalless run. It was a beautiful cross from captain Jordan Henderson, converted by a powerful diving header at the far post.
The Leicester man got to his feet, took a couple of steps — and froze. So did his team-mates. They held the pose for a few seconds, then all broke with huge smiles.
Maybe spend more time on seeing the game out, less on the premature celebration routines next time — although at least it shows Southgate has restored a little of the spirit to this team after a desperate summer and the sudden departure of Allardyce.
There haven’t been a whole lot of positives in 2016 but, at times, playing for England even looked a bit like fun. For 89 minutes, at least.