Kane urges fans to be patient
Striker adamant England are on way up despite struggles in Malta
Approaching midnight on Friday night at Malta's National Stadium in Ta' Qali and the fallout felt familiar. Plenty of travelling England supporters had left an admittedly remotely positioned arena long before the late flurry of goals which added gloss after all the huff and puff. Players traipsed away, a step closer to World Cup qualification, but wary, compelled to address booing, frustration and discontent. And this after a 4-0 win.
Harry Kane, rapidly becoming a talisman for this team, was willing to confront the discord.
"Everyone just needs to stay patient," said the striker. "Obviously the fans can be frustrated. We were frustrated, too, in that first half. Of course we always want to blow teams away, but it doesn't always happen like that, especially in games like this when people always underestimate the opposition, and especially away from home.
"They can do what they want and they just have to stay patient as we did in the game.
"It takes a lot of commitment to reach the top, starting from a young age, dedication, and you have to be a top professional to play for your country. Anyone who says. . . I don't think they understand what it takes. . . it's probably why they're sitting at home watching and we're out there playing. I'm extremely proud to represent my country and I know the other players are. We're by no means the finished article. There's still a lot for us to work on. But we've got to stay patient as a country, together, because it's not going to happen overnight."
Those within the set-up can spy progress, even if it is not always as simple to see from the outside looking in. They can point to the team refusing to panic against Malta when the hosts, ranked 190 in the world, did not fold in the early stages, and eventually ground out the victory which ultimately appeared comfortable.
The optimist in Gareth Southgate would hope that is an indication lessons have been learned in the period since Iceland at Euro 2016 .
Then there was Marcus Rashford's impact off the bench, or the ruthlessness of the latter stages against tiring opponents. The manager described it as "a professional job", though a far sterner test awaits tomorrow. Slovakia are 22nd in the world, on England's shoulder in the group and bolstered by five successive wins in the section.
At least England and Southgate have Kane. The two goals in Ta' Qali took his international tally to 10 from 20 caps, and five in his last three appearances. His timing has been in, whether deflating the Maltese or securing the late point in Scotland just as the English appeared broken. Throw in a couple of goals at Stade de France, even in a friendly defeat, and he has established himself as a figure upon whom the national team can rely.
"I'm glad we have got him," said Southgate. "To be able to pick players of that quality is a privilege. We're fortunate to have him as a top-quality player."
The striker said: "It's just a case of being a bit more experienced at this level. I've now got 20 caps, so it's just a case of getting used to playing with these players. When you play for England you're going to get more chances, and it's just a case of taking them. I've felt sharp all season and I knew if I got a couple of chances I'd take them and that's what happened. I'll carry that burden of expectations and I'll relish it."
Over-reliance must not become too much of an issue, particularly in the post-Wayne Rooney set-up. England could turn to Rashford on Friday, tapping into buoyant club form from Manchester United, as well as Danny Welbeck and Jamie Vardy from the bench. Jermain Defoe and Daniel Sturridge were not required.
It would be unwise to overreact after a win over Malta, of course, and all of that group have, at one stage or another, looked ineffective against cannier international opposition in the past, just as the entire England team have. But there is clearly depth there, and players in whom Southgate is learning to place trust.
"We're fortunate we've got some real quality and people who can make a massive impact off the bench as well," said the manager.
"Last season we didn't have Harry for six of our eight matches, so it's crucial we have that depth. But one thing for certain is we will score goals as a team. We have done that against everybody except Germany, really - two against Spain, two against France - so we have shown evidence of being able to score, even if we also need to be able to score in different ways. Opponents will defend in different ways against us."
Slovakia should be rugged and robust, as they were in Trnava as Sam Allardyce squeezed out a victory in his only game in charge, courtesy of Adam Lallana's solitary goal deep into stoppage-time at the end. They will not be pushovers and there will presumably be periods when frustration mounts again and the home side crave a creative central midfielder to unlock stubborn opposition.
But, if chances can be created from the industry, Kane will be there to take them. "We can put a big marker down on Monday," he added. "But we just need to stay patient, stay relaxed and see what happens."
Sunday Indo Sport