Adam Lallana scored in the 95th minute as England got their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign off to a winning start in Slovakia in Sam Allardyce’s first match as manager.
It looked like the Three Lions were going to be frustrated in Trnava, despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession throughout, as the hosts banked up, much like they did in the 0-0 draw at the Euros in June.
Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling came close in the first half, while Wayne Rooney, on his record-breaking 116th cap, Lallana and substitutes Theo Walcott and Daniel Sturridge all had chances after the break, but England could not find the breakthrough – until Lallana’s late, late intervention.
Slovakia 0-1 England
2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
European Qualifiers (Group F)
5pm (BST), Sunday 4 September
City Arena, Trnava (Slovakia)
Slovakia captain Martin Skrtel, the former Liverpool defender, was sent off just before the hour mark after receiving a second yellow card – and his old Reds team-mate eventually made him pay.
After an uneventful opening 20 minutes Spurs duo Kyle Walker and Kane almost combined perfectly to give the visitors the lead.
Walker delivered a low cross from the right but an unmarked Kane mistimed his effort and took a swipe at thin air with the goal at his mercy.
Slovakia’s best chance of the half was aided by another Tottenham player, Danny Rose. The Three Lions’ left-back attempted to control Peter Pekarik’s header into the box, but he was robbed by the Slovakian No2 who fed Robert Mak.
Mak whipped the ball across the six-yard box but Dusan Svento was unable to reach the ball at the back post.
Moments later it was the hosts’ turn to suffer a defensive lapse as Skrtel and Tomas Hubocan got in each other’s way. Sterling pounced on the loose ball and flashed a shot wide of the far post.
The second half began with two half chances for Allardyce’s new charges, one apiece for Sterling and Kane, but both were deflected to safety.
Skrtel was dismissed just before the hour mark following a foul on Kane. And Allardyce attempted to make the most of the extra man by replacing Jordan Henderson with the more attack-minded Dele Alli in midfield.
Soon after, Rooney, now England Men's most-capped outfield player of all-time, forced Matus Kozacik into his first real save of the match with a shot from the edge of the box, and Kane was unable to convert the rebound.
Lallana skewed a sighter wide midway through the second half and his next effort, an 18-yard left-footer, smacked off the upright.
Walcott and Sturridge were also summoned from the bench and the former did have the ball in the net on 89 minutes, though the Arsenal man was in an offside position when the ball fell to him.
But Lallana converted Rose’s low cross in added time to score his first international goal and give Allardyce a winning start to his England reign.
England’s second World Cup qualifier is against Malta at Wembley Stadium on Saturday 8 October – get your tickets here.
Slovakia: 1 Matus Kozacik, 2 Peter Pekarik, 3 Martin Skrtel (capt), 4 Jan Duroca, 6 Jan Gregus, 15 Tomas Hubocan, 17 Marek Hamsik, 18 Dusan Svento, 20 Robert Mak, 21 Michal Duris, 22 Viktor Pecovsky.
Substitutes: 5 Norbert Gyomber for Pecovsky 56, 7 Frantisek Kubik for Mak 72, 8 Filip Kiss for Svento 78.
Substitutes not used: 9 Jakub Povazanec, 11 Jakub Sylvester, 12 Jan Novota, 14 Lukas Pauschek, 16 Lukas Stetina, 23 Martin Dubravka.
Red card: Skrtel
Manager: Jan Kozak
England (4-2-3-1): 1 Joe Hart (Torino – on loan from Manchester City); 2 Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur), 5 Gary Cahill (Chelsea), 6 John Stones (Manchester City), 3 Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur); 4 Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), 8 Jordan Henderson (Liverpool); 7 Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), 10 Wayne Rooney (capt; Manchester United), 11 Adam Lallana (Liverpool); 9 Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur).
Substitutes: 20 Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur) for Henderson 64, 14 Theo Walcott (Arsenal) for Sterling 71, 15 Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool) for Kane 82.
Substitutes not used: 12 Chris Smalling (Manchester United), 13 Tom Heaton (Burnley), 16 Phil Jagielka (Everton), 17 Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), 18 Danny Drinkwater (Leicester City), 19 Jamie Vardy (Leicester City), 21 Michail Antonio (West Ham United).
Goal: Lallana 90+5
Manager: Sam Allardyce
Referee: Milorad Mazic