For Adam Lallana and England, a night of firsts, most importantly toward Russia 2018

England looked headed for a draw on Sunday night, but Adam Lallana came through late and instead Sam Allardyce's men started their World Cup qualifying campaign dramatic victors.
Adam Lallana of England celebrates his goal against Slovakia in his team's World Cup qualifying match on Sunday night. Dan Mullan / Getty Images / September 4, 2016
Adam Lallana of England celebrates his goal against Slovakia in his team's World Cup qualifying match on Sunday night. Dan Mullan / Getty Images / September 4, 2016

Slovakia 0-1 England

ENG: Lallana 90+5’

For 94 minutes, it brought only frustration. Then, in the 95th, came elation. Sam Allardyce became the ninth consecutive permanent England manager to start his reign with a win. None of the others left it so late, though.

A draw beckoned, a second stalemate with Slovakia in the space of three matches and three months. Then Danny Rose found space on the left wing and crossed, Adam Lallana dug out a shot and it squirmed under goalkeeper Matus Kovacik and into the net.

It completed a night of firsts for England. Allardyce’s managerial bow was sealed by Lallana’s maiden goal for his country. As it came in his 27th game, his had been a long wait. Yet he had been getting closer. He struck the post with a fierce drive and drew a fine save. Persistence eventually paid off.

That said, if this was a win made in Anfield, it owed more to one of Lallana’s former Liverpool teammates. England were able to apply pressure because of the opposing captain. Martin Skrtel was booked for elbowing Harry Kane, should have been dismissed before half-time for tripping the striker and was eventually given his marching orders with 35 minutes remaining for a stamp on the Tottenham forward’s ankle.

It capped a wretched performance from a player with an enduring inability to defend properly and within the laws of the game. A display of thuggery and stupidity had a fitting ending.

He handed England the initiative on an occasion when they had displayed too little incision or imagination.

Kane may have the scars to show for his night’s work. His impact was apparent in the numbers of Slovakians who finished the game, but not on the scoresheet. He has endured a slow start to the season in Tottenham colours. His wait for a first goal continued when he missed his kick after his Spurs colleague Kyle Walker provided an inviting cross.

And, with Kane looking a blunt instrument when England required sharpness, it took them 64 minutes to muster a shot on target. That was supplied by Wayne Rooney on a landmark occasion for him and Allardyce alike. The 30-year-old’s 116th cap meant he overhauled David Beckham’s record for an outfield player. Contrary to Allardyce’s indications, Rooney did not play as a No 10. Instead, he occupied a deeper role in a midfield trio, just as he did for Roy Hodgson at Euro 2016.

Rooney was characteristically committed, being fortunate to escape a caution for a lunge at Marek Hamsik, but he offered too little invention and too many misplaced passes. When, with Slovakia down to 10 men, Allardyce removed Jordan Henderson, the substitute Dele Alli operated ahead of Rooney. The youngster lent a spark. England needed it.

Allardyce had deployed the 4-3-3 formation he often prefers. A jinking Raheem Sterling had fired narrowly wide from an acute angle but made way for Theo Walcott, who had a goal controversially disallowed for offside when Daniel Sturridge, who came on for Kane, looked to flick the ball into his path.

At the other end, Slovakia only had one chance of note. Rose was dispossessed by Michael Duris but a sliding Dusan Svento was unable to apply the finishing touch to his cross. So Joe Hart, who endured a traumatic Euro 2016, had a quiet evening. He was not required to make a meaningful save.

England’s defenders, Rose included, roamed further forward in the search for a goal. Slovakia’s showed a resilience until a late goalkeeping error had Allardyce punching the air.

As this was, in theory, the toughest game in the group, it felt a big step towards a place in Russia in 2018.

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Published: September 4, 2016 04:00 AM

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