New England manager Sam Allardyce got off to a winning start, but only just, after Adam Lallana netted four minutes into injury time to give the Three Lions the victory over Slovakia in their opening World Cup qualifying game.
It may have been a new era with Allardyce taking over from Roy Hodgson after a dismal display in France in the summer, but it seemed largely the same for England who struggled against their European counterparts, even after the hosts played much of the second half with ten men.
In his first game in charge, the former Sunderland and West Ham manager fielded eight of the starting eleven that exited Euro 2016 following their embarrassing defeat to Iceland. Despite that, it was a typical England performance on the whole; controlling possession, both full backs attacking, control in midfield, but then the same negatives as in France, with defensive frailties in the centre and a major lacking in the final third.
Despite a first half of dominance, England failed to register a shot on target. That wasn’t until the 65th minutes when skipper Wayne Rooney, who came under criticism following the nations exit from the Euro’s, created an opening, but to no avail. His influence was in a midfield role, rather than the number ten role we have seen him play under Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, despite Allardyce saying that Rooney would be used in an attacking capacity.
With Rooney dropping deep, it lead to both Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson also to drop, leaving them with little influence on the game from midfield, other than defensively.
Rooney’s on target effort came eight minutes after the hosts were reduced to ten men. Former Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel, who received a yellow card in the first half following an elbow to the face of Harry Kane, was given his marching orders on 57 minutes after another foul on the England striker, but despite the man advantage, Allardyce’s side failed to really test Matus Kozacik in the Slovak goal.
With Rooney playing deep, the introduction of Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli into a number ten role sparked life into a lacklustre England attack. Kane, a teammate of Alli, was barely involved, other than scrapping with Skrtel, whilst Raheem Sterling, who looks a different player under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, played tirelessly but to no avail.
Lallana, who has been a fringe player at best for both club and country, was definitely the best player in a red shirt on the night. His creativity led to him hitting the post with ten minutes remaining, before he remained composed to slot home the winner, albeit fortuitously after poor goalkeeping.
Allardyce had options on the bench, notably leaving Jamie Vardy there, but his positivity with counter attacking would have been wasted with the Slovak defence holding firm until the dying stages, when tiredness and fatigue clearly set in.
But after drawing 0-0 against Slovakia in their final group game at Euro 2016, England, playing away from home, may have accepted a draw, but when Lallana, who had failed to score in his previous 26 England games, netted the winner, the bench sparked into celebration, but maybe more of relief than joy.
Stats and player ratings:
- Sam Allardyce’s debut victory makes him the ninth successive England manager to win their first game in charge.
- Wayne Rooney made his 116th appearance for England, more than any other outfield player. Only goalkeeper Peter Shilton (125) has played more games for England.
- England have won each of their last 13 Euro/World Cup qualifying matches.
- They have attempted 49 shots (including blocks) in their last two matches against Slovakia, managing to score just once.
- Slovakia had just one shot in the whole match, and it was off target.
GK – Joe Hart (5)
A rating of five may seem harsh for the ousted Manchester City goalkeeper, but that was only because he had little to do. The game time however will give him confidence .
RB – Kyle Walker (6)
Like at Euro 2016, his attacking prospects were his major highlights, despite little end product. Defensively, he had little to do.
CB – Gary Cahill (6)
It was an easy night at the back for England, and the Chelsea man was rarely tested.
CB – John Stones (7)
Like Cahill, Stones was rarely tested defensively, but his confidence on the ball was a major positive.
LB – Danny Rose (6)
Like Walker, he was more affective whilst attacking. He created little, but did have a hand in Lallana’s late strike. Defensively, he was caught in possession which could have lead to a Slovakia goal, but on the whole, an average performance.
CM – Jordan Henderson (5)
He may be skipper at Liverpool, but at international level, he still looks relatively inexperienced. Admittedly, he was pushed more defensively with Rooney dropping, but he gave the ball away too often and wasted shots when the opportunity arose.
CM – Eric Dier (6)
Naturally a defensive midfielder, it was a solid display from the Tottenham man. Definitely a potential starter in this position under Allardyce.
RW – Raheem Sterling (6)
It was a strong performance from Sterling, but his efforts were in vain. He worked tirelessly, and had one shot, which was off target.
AM – Wayne Rooney (5)
A poor display from the skipper. Dropped too deep too often, and didn’t create a lot. Clearly he’s better off in a more attacking role, where his passing can do the talking.
LW – Adam Lallana (8)
Definitely man of the match. He looked lively throughout, hitting the post and of course grabbing the winner. He looked calm and composed, and his professionalism showed.
ST – Harry Kane (5)
Other than a couple of tangles with Martin Skrtel, you may have been forgiven for not even knowing that Kane was playing. Through no fault of his own, he had no service or support, and failed to make an impact.
Dele Alli – 6 – (on for Henderson, 64 minutes) Positive in attack, looked lively.
Theo Walcott – 6 – (on for Sterling, 70 minutes) Scored, but goal was controversially ruled out for offside. Looked lively given lack of game time.