It's not for me to tell Wayne where to play - Allardyce
Slovakia 0 England 1
Published 05/09/2016 | 02:30
Wayne Rooney half-jokingly called on Sam Allardyce to "work his magic" on England as the manager prepared for his first game in charge, but even the new man in charge would not have expected to pull a rabbit out of the hat to such dramatic effect.
Just as his first game in charge looked set to end in a frustrating stalemate - the second 0-0 draw in the space of two months against Slovakia - Adam Lallana emerged to score his first England goal four minutes into stoppage time in Trnava.
The Liverpool midfielder had led the England charge in the dying stages, hitting an upright and having a shot saved, before he sent a tired last-gasp shot through the legs of goalkeeper Matus Kozacik.
At a stroke, it felt as though the ghosts of Iceland had been exorcised.
Allardyce punched the air repeatedly and the players celebrated wildly in front of the 1,700 travelling supporters.
With Slovakia reduced to ten men for the final 33 minutes following Martin Skrtel's dismissal for two yellow-card offences on Harry Kane, England almost ran out of road to make the hosts pay for their disadvantage.
But Lallana delivered when it mattered. In a group devoid of a heavyweight rival for top spot, this trip to Trnava, 35 miles north-east of the capital Bratislava, potentially offered the sternest test of England's credentials in Group F. Their next game is at home to Malta.
Scotland in Glasgow next June will provide the usual muck and nettles challenge of a home nations tie, but Slovakia have claimed the scalp of Spain and Germany over the past two years, so Jan Kozak's team possess recent pedigree.
So it was a tough start for Allardyce, one perhaps eased by the complete absence of the kind of hostility and bear-pit atmosphere which often greets England in Eastern Europe.
Trnava's 17,500-capacity Stadion Antona Malatinskeho, opened just 13 months ago, was shiny and new, with a crowd of families who even applauded Rooney as his name was read out prior to the game.
It was all so sanitised and nice, but there are occasions when a footballer needs to play on the edge, needs to be fired up by a passionate home crowd - however, there was no needle whatsoever and it led to a flat first-half in which neither goalkeeper had a shot to save.
Allardyce began with a tactical surprise, starting with a 4-1-4-1 formation that saw Rooney line up on the left of midfield, but the Manchester United forward did not convince in the role.
Lacking the explosive bursts of pace of his youth, Rooney now drifts deeper into midfield in search of the time and space he needs to see a pass, but he needs to play in the final third and, if he cannot, then Allardyce must instead turn to Dele Alli.
But Allardyce is happy for the 30-year-old to play wherever he sees fit for his country.
"Yes, he played a bit deeper than he does at United, but Wayne's comfortable, when I talk to him, about the position," he said.
"He wasn't in a goalscoring position today, but his passing was excellent and we ended up getting what we wanted. Against a different team, you may play a different system.
"But this is the most decorated outfield player in England. I think that he holds a lot more experience at international football than me as an international manager.
"Using his experience with a team, and playing as a team member, it's not for me to say where he's going to play.
"It's up to me to ask whether he's doing well in that position, and contributing. If so, great."
Joe Hart, having retained his place in goal, almost gifted Slovakia a chance in the seventh minute when he scuffed a clearance.
England had their moments, but they were brief flashes of possibilities rather than clear-cut opportunities.
It was as though the recurring nightmare of Euro 2016, when England dominated possession in all four games but struggled to score, was returning to haunt Allardyce's players.
Kane, displaying the lack of confidence from failing to score for Tottenham this season, pulled a ball back for Raheem Sterling when he could have shot six yards out. Sterling, in such fine form for Manchester City, then fluffed his chance when he shot wide from close range.
It was all so heavy going. England needed players capable of taking charge and stamping their authority on the game, but they were either not prepared to do it or lacked the quality to do so.
It was not until Skrtel's dismissal on 57 minutes - the former Liverpool defender could have been sent off on two occasions prior to his stamp on Kane - that England began to assert themselves. The introduction of Alli in place of Jordan Henderson made a big difference and the Spurs player almost diverted a Rooney shot into the net on 65 minutes.
As England began to pin Slovakia on the ropes, Lallana rattled the woodwork and Walcott had a goal disallowed on a wafer-thin offside call.
Finally, Lallana struck to score the winner with virtually the last kick. (© Independent News Service)
Independent News Service