England dig deep to avoid embarrassment in Malta
Malta 0 England 4
These grinding one-way games that make up much of what is World Cup qualification in the modern era are nothing like entertainment, and for the most part they barely constitute a contest, but just when it looked like another underwhelming night for England, the goals finally came.
Harry Kane's first goal of the season had been all that separated England from the team rated 190th in the world by Fifa as the game went into its last five regulation minutes, before finally the resistance of the home team collapsed and the score looked more like it should.
Many of the England fans who had booed at half-time had already gone home when Ryan Bertrand, the substitute Danny Welbeck and then Kane again added three over six minutes, including two in injury-time.
This had not been a classic but this England team had never given up and so it turned out their rewards came late, a small measure of justice for a team that is still finding its way in international football.
Kane was the game's stand-out player, a brilliant predator who now has five goals in his last three England caps and has come out of his dry August with two on the first day of September.
They came off the pitch exhausted, having had more possession than they knew what to do with at times and yet only at the game's very end did they have a scoreline that felt right against a nation one-third the size of the Isle of Man.
They will have known the criticism coming their way with the game at a meagre 1-0, they kept going and there is much to be said for that.
Gareth Southgate's players worked themselves into the ground against a team that wished only to defend and in doing so exposed so many of the shortcomings of this England side. They do not have the passing range in midfield to pierce a slow-moving battalion of lower-league footballers.
They do have individuals whose confidence goes through the floor when things go badly as they did for Raheem Sterling, substituted at half-time.
They remain two points clear at the top of Group F which means that even a win over Slovakia at Wembley on Monday will not quite take England to qualification for Russia 2018, although they are almost there.
Elsewhere, in the group, Scotland put themselves back in contention with an impressive 3-0 victory over Lithuania.
Northern Ireland battled to break down stubborn San Marino for over an hour, then scored three times in seven minutes, including two from Josh Magennis. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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