England took another huge step towards Euro 2020 qualification with a 5-3 win on a crazy evening in Southampton.
Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Jadon Sancho helped the Three Lions score five before the break, but they wobbled in the second half as Kosovo gave them a scare.
Here, the PA news agency looks at the main talking points from the game.
A decade of qualifying success
England just do not lose qualifiers and they will now go more than 10 years since their last defeat. It has been 43 games and 3,622 days – across World Cup and European Championship qualification periods – where the Three Lions have gone unbeaten, going way back to October 2010 when they lost 1-0 in Ukraine under the leadership of Fabio Capello. This was win number 34 in that spell and, despite their shock start and sloppiness after the break, there was never really any chance of their exceptional run ending at St Mary’s. Having scored five or more goals in three of their opening four games, and bagging four in the other, this Euro 2020 campaign is proving simply too easy for Gareth Southgate’s men.
Is it possible to score too early?
Given the choice Kosovo manager Bernard Challandes would probably have preferred his side to open the scoring in the 90th minute rather than the first. A shock was, albeit very briefly, on the cards when the visitors stunned England by scoring after only 34 seconds. This was not quite a Stuart Pearce moment versus San Marino in 1993, but it was not far off as a careless piece of play by Michael Keane allowed Valon Berisha to steal in and give his side the lead before some supporters had even taken their seats. But if there was ever an instance of scoring too early then this was it for Kosovo, whose impressive 15-game unbeaten run came to an end. Challandes’ side put up a brave performance, but they could not cope against the quality of opposition they have not faced before and things went south quickly in the first half. They restored some pride after the break, with the help of some shoddy play by the hosts and did at least give their army of fans something to cheer about.
Defensive concerns remain
While everything is firing at the top end of the pitch there are still question marks for England about their defensive unit after they allowed Kosovo to score three times. All three were a direct result of individual errors, which made the evening a little more complicated than it should have been. Keane and Declan Rice were criminally sloppy in possession and it led to goals while only Harry Maguire knows what he was doing when he went through the back of Vedat Muriqi. The Three Lions will be able to outscore most teams, but against the better nations, which they will need to get past if they are to challenge for Euro 2020 next summer, they can ill-afford such moments of generosity.
On the road to success
Following the successful return of touring around the country in the last two seasons, where they visited Leeds and Leicester, England were back on the road at St Mary’s. It was their first return to Southampton for 17 years, a night in 2002 when they drew 2-2 with Macedonia, and this was a much more successful outing for Southgate’s men. Although they were given plenty to cheer the England fans, who would normally have to travel to Wembley to see their team, turned out in force and provided a fine atmosphere. There was a brief period in the second half when it resembled more of a Take That concert, with people shining their mobile phone torches, but there was no real disinterest, which there can often be at the national stadium, undoubtedly helped by the end-to-end nature of the game. Credit too to a huge number of Kosovo fans, some of who occupied home sections of the ground, who had an evening to remember.
Watch out Wayne
All the focus this week has rightly been on Kane’s brilliant scoring form for England and how long it might take him to surpass Wayne Rooney’s record of 53 goals for his country after he added four to his tally in the two games. But the former Manchester United striker has a more immediate threat as Mergim Vojvoda became the scorer of the 52nd own goal against the Three Lions. The defender put through his own net in the first half after good work from Sancho.
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