Roy Hodgson praised Chris Smalling's man-of-the-match display against Switzerland and believes it gave England the foundation for victory.
The Three Lions manager was impressed with his team's defence after a sixth clean-sheet in their eight qualifiers, as goals from Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney's 50th for his country maintained their 100 per cent qualifying record with a 2-0 win.
In particular, Smalling – who he signed from Maidstone United in 2008 when in charge of Fulham – was the stand-out performer at the heart of the back four.
“We signed [Smalling] for nothing, didn’t we? Just a bag of balls, I think," smiled Hodgson as he recalled his time at Craven Cottage.
"I’m delighted for him because he’s a player who has really had to fight to get to the position that he’s achieved at Manchester United today.
“I also congratulate the people who chose the man of the match. It would have been so easy to give the award to Wayne for his 50th goal or to Harry Kane coming on, Luke Shaw for bombing up the left wing.
"We can thank Chris Smalling and his partner Gary Cahill and we owe them a debt that we won 2-0, because sometimes what was going on in front of them wasn’t what we really wanted to see."
Meanwhile, Smalling's Manchester United team-mate Luke Shaw also enjoyed a good night at left-back, providing the assist for Kane's opener in what was his first England start at Wembley.
Shaw has had an impressive start to the season at Old Trafford following a difficult, injury-hit, first campaign after his move from Southampton last year and was Hodgson's first-choice No3 for the games against San Marino and Switzerland.
And he believes the 20-year-old has the ability, and the time, to follow in the footsteps of England centurion Ashley Cole.
"It’s nice to see [Luke] back, playing confidently and showing him the form that got him to the move to Manchester United in the first place," said the boss.
"We’ve always believed in him. He played in the last game in the World Cup against Costa Rica and I thought he played very well in that first game and was pencilled in as the player who could give Leighton Baines a run for his money.
"But he had a tough season and I think one thing will undoubtedly be proven true that that tough season might benefit him, because he's still only 20."
He added: "If he keeps going then he’s on track to be another Ashley Cole, a 100-cap man, and I would advise him to study Ashley Cole, look at what Ashley did for England and set his sights on the same thing."
Smalling and Shaw will be aiming to be part of the England squad for the final two Group E qualifiers next month.
First up is a meeting with Estonia at Wembley on Friday 9 October, and tickets for the game are still available. Click here to buy online.