England 2-1 Slovakia: Marcus Rashford scores winner in World Cup Qualifier
By Stephen Mills
Last Updated: 05/09/17 9:49pm
Marcus Rashford put England on the brink of World Cup qualification after scoring the winner in a 2-1 victory over Slovakia on Monday night.
Defeat would have seen Gareth Southgate's side slip to second place in Group F with two games to play and Stanislav Lobotka's goal after two-and-a-half minutes prompted concern among the 67,823 supporters at Wembley Stadium.
But Eric Dier turned in a corner on 38 minutes to settle the nerves, before Rashford struck a fine winner 14 minutes after half-time to put England five points clear of Slovakia.
And that means England need just two points from their remaining fixtures against Slovenia and Lithuania to guarantee a place at next summer's World Cup finals in Russia.
Peter Taylor's England player ratings
England: Hart (7), Walker (6), Cahill (7), Jones (8), Bertrand (7), Henderson (7), Dier (6), Oxlade-Chamberlain (7), Alli (7), Rashford (7), Kane (7).
Subs: Sterling (n/a), Welbeck (n/a), Livermore (n/a)
Man of the match: Phil Jones
Rashford made his first England start after being preferred to Raheem Sterling in attack, but his night did not start well as he lost possession in the build-up to Slovakia's third-minute opener.
Lobotka robbed the Manchester United forward 25 yards from goal and shared the ball with Adam Nemec, who clipped a clever pass over the England defenders back to his team-mate to finish brilliantly past Joe Hart.
England were visibly rattled and laboured for much of the first half, but found an equaliser in the 38th minute. It came from a corner, which was curled by Rashford low to the feet of Dier at the front post and the Tottenham midfielder hooked a first-time shot above Lobotka on the goal-line and into the roof of the net.
England might have been reduced to 10 men on the stroke of half-time when last man Kyle Walker appeared to trip Vladimir Weiss in full flight on the edge of the area, but the referee felt the defender won the ball, much to the frustration of the Slovakia players.
Rashford was handed a first Wembley start for England, while Dier returned from suspension at the expense of Jake Livermore. Former Liverpool man Martin Skrtel started for Slovakia after a ban.
And England capitalised on their fortune as Rashford put them ahead on 59 minutes. Following a neat exchange between Dele Alli and Jordan Henderson, the 19-year-old struck an unstoppable low shot across goalkeeper Martin Dubravka from the edge of the area.
Slovakia had limited opportunities to score a second as Nemec's close-range volley was beaten away by Hart and Tomas Hubocan wastefully bounced a shot over the bar - and they will now need to avoid defeat in their next match at Hampden Park to prevent Scotland going above them into a play-off spot.
England's night might be tarnished if FIFA decide to punish Dele Alli for a crude gesture, which the midfielder later said on social media was aimed at his former Tottenham team-mate Kyle Walker, but Southgate knows victory against Slovenia next month will secure a passage to Russia after another tenacious, if unconvincing, qualifying display.
- England had 23 shots, their most in their last 12 games, since attempting 29 against Slovakia in Euro 2016.
- England conceded at home in a competitive game for the first time in seven matches, since winning 3-1 v Slovenia in November 2014.
- Joe Hart equalled Gordon Banks' haul of 73 senior caps for England.
- Slovakia scored with their only shot of the first half.
- Seven of England's last nine goals have either been scored or assisted by Tottenham players.
Peter Taylor's Man of the Match
The former England boss was very impressed with Jones' display at centre-half, saying: "He gets the highest rating of the night from me. It was a very solid performance and he was certainly the pick of the bunch in the back four. He's forming an excellent partnership with Gary Cahill and becoming a fixture in the side which is really handy for Gareth Southgate."
England can secure World Cup qualification with a win over Slovenia at Wembley in their next qualifying match on Thursday October 5, before concluding their campaign in Lithuania three days later. Slovakia's match in Scotland on October 5 will likely be crucial in the race for a play-off spot.
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