TRNAVA: Sam Allardyce was brought sharply back down to earth as manager of his country as England managed a 1-0 victory in Slovakia thanks a strike in the fifth minute of stoppage time from Adam Lallana in the World Cup’s European qualifying Group F.
Allardyce had talked confidently in advance about the challenge of putting back together the pieces shattered by the humiliating Euro 2016 elimination by Iceland in the quarter-finals in France. In the event, his broad smile afterwards was an appreciation of the nature of his escape to victory.
England, under Roy Hodgson had been held goalless by the Slovaks in Saint-Etienne in the first round in the European Championship.
For large spells of the ‘revenge’ they played far too cautiously and struggled to capitalise even after the Slovaks were reduced to 10 men by the expulsion of captain and central defender Martin Skrtel.
Slovakia, with Peter Pekarik and veteran Jan Durica solid in defence, worked hard to earn a point they thought was theirs until deep into the last moments when Liverpool’s Lallana struck his first goal for England on his 27th appearance.
Lallana was one of three players – along with John Stones and Jordan Henderson – whom Allardyce had recalled in his changes from the team who started against Iceland.
England started brightly then faded. Skipper Wayne Rooney, on his 116th appearance, was playing far too deep and leaving Harry Lane isolated up front. It was as if Allardyce were more interested in playing for the draw than the win.
Both teams were guilty of occasional sloppy play in defence. Dusan Svento should have opened the scoring for the hosts in the 36th minute but was a split-second too late to reach Michal Duris’s cross from the right. Then, at the other end, Raheem Sterling shot wastefully wide from an angle after the ball had rebounded to his feet.
England raised their game at the start of the second half and forced two quick corners before Slovakia were reduced to 10 men by the expulsion of Martin Skrtel. Slovakia’s captain, booked early in the first half, collected a well-deserved second yellow card for stamping on Kane’s ankle after bringing him down.
For all their possession it was not until the 65th minute that Rooney produced England’s first shot on target, deflected for a corner. Liverpool’s Adam Lallana then put one shot hastily wide and saw a second effort rebound out off the inside of a post before claiming his due reward.
Slovakia: Kozacik – Pekarik, Skrtel, Durica, Hubocan – Pecovsky (Gyomber 55) – Mak (Kubik 71), Gregus, Hamsik, Svento (Kiss 77) – Duris. Coach: Kozak.
England: Hart – Walker, Cahill, Stones, Rose – Henderson (Alli 63), Dier – Sterling (Walcott 70), Rooney, Lallana – Kane (Sturridge 80). Manager: Allardyce.