Same old England scrape past Slovakia as Big Sam gets lucky
Last-gasp winner from Adam Lallana earns England victory, but has anything changed under the new boss?
Slovakia 0 England 1.
By Bill Mann
Adam Lallana scored his first goal for England with the last kick of the game to give Sam Allardyce a win to remember in his first outing as manager.
Lallana poked a low cross from Danny Rose through legs of goalkeeper Matus Kozacik in the fifth minute of injury time, a cruel blow for the hosts who had played the last half hour with ten men after Martin Skrtel was sent off for stamping on Harry Kane.
That act was about the only talking point in a match that was low on excitement, low on quality and low on intensity. In short, it was what the world has come to expect from England in recent years. That they opened their 2018 World Cup qualification campaign with a win was down to their admirable persistence but it was just as well England weren't playing Iceland otherwise they would have been hammered.
As Chris Waddle told BBC 5 live: "It wasn't impressive from England. No imagination, no creativity, same old." While Gary Lineker got so depressed during the second half he did the unimaginable and tweeted: "Bring back Roy!"
In fairness to Allardyce he's lumbered with the same mediocre players as Roy Hodgson was during England's dismal Euro 2016 campaign. Nonetheless he has to take his share of the blame for a performance that was some way short of international standard.
And one question he'll have to address between now and England's next game, against Slovenia on 11 October, is whether Wayne Rooney still merits his place in the team. His negative body language infects the rest of the side and given that he's skills have been on the wane for a while what's the point of keeping him in the team?
He was deployed in a deep midfield role on Sunday evening in a 4-1-4-1 formation, revealing afterwards that the position "suits me". Rooney also took the nation by surprise when he declared that: "We stuck to our plan and kept our shape."
England actually had a plan? It must have been a subtle one beyond the grasp of most of their supporters or perhaps Lallana was nearer to the Three Lions strategy when he admitted after the final whistle that "we kept plugging away".
Alas, as recent history has shown, "plugging away" might get England to a major tournament but it's not enough to get anywhere near actually winning a title, and given the evidence of Sunday night England's chances of winning the 2018 World Cup in Russia are roughly the same as President Putin joining the Peace Corps.
But Big Sam was pleased and it would be churlish to deny him his moment of triumph. "It was pretty nerve-racking at the end because the ten men scenario meant we must win," he explained. “To score that goal was a huge relief for me. You've got to beat ten men and even if we weren't as clinical as I expected us to be, we richly deserved it based on us dominating the game."