England got their 2018 World Cup Qualifying campaign underway today with a victory over Slovakia in Trnava.
Sam Allardyce must have been fearing the worst at half-time, after an uninspiring opening 45 minutes.
However, two key moments in the second-half proved to be the difference.
First, Slovakia defender Martin Skrtel was sent off. Then, in injury-time, Adam Lallana poked home to give England a scrappy victory.
Allardyce deployed a 4-3-3 formation, a departure from the previous system used under Roy Hodgson which proved so disastrous in the European Championships.
Harry Kane was up front, despite an indifferent start to the season with Tottenham, supported by Lallana and Wayne Rooney.
Rooney overtook David Beckham to become England’s most-capped outfield player, but this was not his most effective display.
England took the game to their hosts early, and Slovakia’s Peter Pekarik was alert and made a couple of early clearances.
They had a shout for a penalty on 18 minutes, as John Stones was hauled to the ground in the area by Tomas Hubocan. The protests were waved away by the referee.
Kane had the first real chance on 20 minutes, but miskicked in the area and ended up not even connecting with the ball.
Skrtel then received his first booking for an elbow to the face of Kane. It could have been a red on its own.
On 39 minutes, Slovakia missed a golden chance to take the lead. Duris firing across the goal and Svento only just failing to meet it, sliding in.
At the other end, Raheem Sterling missed the target by inches. Just before half-time, Skrtel was perhaps fortunate to stay on the pitch after fouling Kane. The referee took no action on this occasion.
Skrtel received his marching orders on 58 minutes after assaulting Kane again, this time stamping on the striker’s ankle.
Dele Alli came on for Jordan Henderson as England looked to capitalise on the man advantage. And they almost did as he just failed to connect with a Rooney curler.
Theo Walcott came on for Sterling, and he missed a chance to score after Lallana struck the woodwork.
Rooney was brought down by Kubik in the box, and again England were awarded nothing.
Walcott was adjudged offside just before the end of the ninety minutes, after a Rooney effort skimmed the boot of Daniel Sturridge. Four minutes of injury-time were awarded.
But as the clock ticked into the fifth extra minute, Danny Rose found Lallana, who dug the ball out from under his feet and shot. It wasn’t pretty, but it did find the back of the net.
By Steve Osborne @BlizzardSteve75