England started off their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign with a narrow 1-0 win over Slovakia on the road on Sunday after a late winner by Adam Lallana.
On paper, the away game against Slovakia was the toughest game for the Three Lions, and they ultimately came away with the win in Sam Allardyce’s debut as England manager after a goal by Lallana in stoppage time. They sit in second place in qualification Group F, as Scotland got a 5-1 win over Malta.
England dominated possession in the opening half, but had difficulties breaking down a very tactically sound Slovakian defense. The Slovakians made sure to have plenty of players behind the ball and clog things up in the middle of the pitch. England failed to push up the tempo to get the Slovaks out of position, and it wasn’t until the late stages of the first half where they finally started to look a bit threatening.
Raheem Sterling had the best chance of the first half for England as he had a shot go just wide of the left post in the 40th minute. The Manchester City winger has been in fine form to start the Premier League season after a poor showing at Euro 2016. Sterling received the ball inside the penalty box from Harry Kane, but decided to go for power instead of precision and the ball ended up going wide.
Slovakia had a good opportunity of their own just a minute earlier, but Dusan Svento failed to make contact inside the box after Michal Duris squared the ball from the right hand side. Duris put a little too much power behind his pass, as it would have been an easy tap in for Svento had he been able to reach the ball.
In the second half, England got a big break in the 58th minute when Slovakian captain Martin Skrtel was sent off after being shown his second yellow card of the game. England started to get more space being a man up, and in the 77th minute, Lallana hit the post with a left-footed shot from inside the penalty area.
England kept the pressure on, but failed to create any real chances. It took until the dying seconds of the game before Lallana would nick the win for England with his first international goal. Lallana getting the start was one of three changes made by Allardyce compared to the team that lost to Iceland in the Euros in the Round of 16.
The new England boss was pleased to start off with a win and thought his team fully deserved the three points.
“I don’t think there was any doubt that we deserved it,” Allardyce told Sky Sports.
“I think this time compared to last time, we won 1-0 which is what matters in the end in front of our own fans who were desperately waiting for that goal. We finally got it and we all celebrated, rightly so after that performance.
“We totally dominated the game in what everyone is telling me is one of the most difficult games to play here in Slovakia, their record is very, very good.
“We definitely had to go and win it when they went down to 10 men. We did it and in the end, we made hard work of it by the chances that we missed and with the referee making a bit of a mistake on Theo Walcott’s goal because it came off their defender. It could’ve been a little easier but we got there in the end.
“I think being a little bit patient was the key in the end for us to win the game and not to get too anxious because they’re going to stick nine men behind the ball when they go down to 10 men and say ‘come on, break us down’.
“They were defending very, very deep and very stoutly but in the end we broke that down several times. I was getting a little bit worried, I must admit that we were wasting our chances but finally we got one in.”
England’s next qualifying game is at home against Malta on Oct. 8 at Wembley Stadium.