The Liverpool striker netted late on at Wembley Stadium, meaning the Three Lions avoided the ignominy of going three successive games without finding the target on home soil.
Roy Hodgson was looking for his fringe players to sparkle on Wednesday and book themselves a seat on the plane to Brazil, but few contenders were able to leave a lasting impression – with Raheem Sterling the only one to rise above mediocrity.
Instead, the Three Lions coach will have been concerned by the ease at which his side were carved open on occasions – with Jakob Poulsen allowed to make one dangerous burst into the box which went untracked.
At the opposite end of the field, England did see the woodwork struck towards the end of the first half, with a nudge in the back of Sterling preventing him from converting as Peter Ankersen diverted an Ashley Cole cross onto the frame of the goal.
Southampton full-back Luke Shaw was introduced for his senior debut at the interval, and things did improve marginally in the second 45 minutes.
Joe Hart was forced to smother an effort from Morten Rasmussen as England wobbled once more, while Danny Welbeck tested Kasper Schmeichel on a couple of occasions after stepping off the bench.
The defining moment of the night then arrived eight minutes from time as Adam Lallana worked a short corner and clipped the ball into the box for Sturridge to nod back across Schmeichel and into the bottom corner.
The only flashpoint in the opening 15 minutes came when Daniel Agger caught Jack Wilshere’s left ankle in a challenge.
The midfielder slammed the turf in agony, and Hodgson came to the touchline looking concerned, but after two minutes’ worth of treatment, the Arsenal man was fine to carry on.
Denmark barely ventured over the halfway line, but England offered little down the other end either.
Steven Gerrard pinched the ball off Casper Sloth, but the defender took the England captain down before he could shoot.
Sloth was issued with a yellow card and, had it not been a friendly, he could have seen red. It did not matter much anyway as Wayne Rooney put the resulting free-kick high and wide.
Hart was called into action for the first time after half an hour to collect a long ball over the top before Nicklas Bendtner could finish.
Poulsen then set home nerves jangling when he cut in from the right flank and squared the ball across the box, but Gary Cahill and Cole cleared before Bendtner could convert.
The chance spurred England into life. Sterling and Ankersen slid in at the far post to meet Cole’s dangerous cross but the ball struck a post and Denmark survived.
Schmeichel kept his team level just before the break when he spread his body wide just like his father used to do to deny Sturridge.
Boos rang out as Rooney was replaced by Danny Welbeck. England’s other substitute, Lallana, showed promise with a clever turn, but there was still no threat.
Welbeck then impressed, turning and firing a low shot which Schmeichel saved.
The Danes were still a threat on the break, though, with Hart spreading himself wide to deny Rasmussen.
Henderson then flicked a ball through to Welbeck but Schmeichel made himself look like a giant starfish to deny the Manchester United striker.
Schmeichel was there to deny England again soon after. This time the Leicester City man punched Sturridge’s fierce shot away.
Just as some supporters started heading for the exits, Sturridge won the game for England.
Sterling found Lallana with a short corner and the Southampton midfielder lifted a delightful chip into the box which Sturridge converted.
The relief was palpable, but if England are to enjoy the Samba in Brazil this summer they will have to play much better.