A devastating first-half showing from England was enough to repel a brave Kosovo 5-3 in a pulsating European Qualifier at St Mary’s.
After falling behind after just 35 seconds to Valon Berisha, England responded emphatically, scoring five goals in the opening 45 minutes with Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho causing havoc.
Sterling headed home the equaliser (8) before Harry Kane (19) fired England in front. Sancho - starting in place of Marcus Rashford - exploded into the game just before the break forcing Mergim Vojvoda into an own goal and then helping himself to his first two international goals after some phenomenal play from Sterling on the counter-attack.
Kosovo - unbeaten in their last 15 matches in all competitions - played bravely after half-time and were rewarded with goals from Berisha (49) and Vedat Muriqi (55).
Despite creating ample opportunities on the break, England failed to add to their total with Kane missing from the penalty spot (65).
England: Pickford (6), Alexander-Arnold (7), Keane (5), Maguire (6), Chilwell (6), Rice (6), Henderson (7), Barkley (7), Sterling (9), Sancho (8), Kane (7)
Subs: Mount (N/A), Rashford (N/A)
Man of the match: Raheem Sterling
It was a very Jekyll-and-Hyde-like performance from Gareth Southgate's men who were at times scintillating going forward but defensively very vulnerable against the Kosovan press.
This latest victory means England are now unbeaten in qualification matches for major tournaments in 10 years and are in full control of Group A with four wins from four.
10 out of 10!
England have avoided defeat in each of their last 43 EURO/World Cup qualifying matches (W34 D9 L0), since losing 0-1 to Ukraine in October 2009.
In front of a bumper crowd at St Mary's, part of the Football Association's commitment to take England on something of a tour round the country, England pooped the party atmosphere, falling behind, incredibly, inside 35 seconds.
Ross Barkley's blind pass was almost intercepted which put Michael Keane under pressure. His sloppy pass was nicked by Muriqi, who slid in Berisha to score. The goal was the quickest scored in this European qualifying campaign.
There was no panic from Southgate's side who were level just seven minutes later. Again, it was their set-piece artillery that proved decisive as Keane rose highest from a deep corner to head back across goal for Sterling to showcase his new-found predatory instincts inside the six-yard box.
Jadon Sancho replaced Marcus Rashford in attack while Gareth Southgate also changed both his full-backs with Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold and Leicester's Ben Chilwell handed starts.
Sterling now has eight goals in his last eight England matches but this was his first headed goal for his country.
The value of Sterling
Raheem Sterling has been involved in 13 goals in his last eight England appearances.
The Manchester City man then let his feet do the talking to hand England the lead on 19 minutes when breaking through the heart of the Kosovan defence and feeding Kane. Two touches later the ball was thumping the back of the net as England's skipper fired home his 26th goal for his country, moving him level with Bryan Robson.
Sancho was having an unspectacular time of things down the right flank but unleashed himself into the game on 38 minutes to set up England's third. With Fidan Aliti down injured and Kosovo seemingly expecting England to kick the ball out, Sancho played to the whistle and got down the wing before skidding a low cross over which was comically turned home by Mergim Vojvoda.
There was still time before the break for England to grab two more goals with some devastating counter-attacking football against a naive Kosovo. Unsurprisingly, Sterling was at the heart of both.
After some brilliant break-up play from Declan Rice, Sterling picked the perfect final ball to Sancho who stroked home from a tight angle. It was the same combination that linked up again moments later. Sterling beat his marker with a nifty shift of pace down the left and centred for Sancho to tap home from close range.
Despite getting blitzed on the counter, Kosovo still tried to play with an attacking mentality and took advantage of a sloppy Rice pass to draw it back to 5-2 as Berisha neatly curled home his second.
That sparked further enthusiasm in the Kosovan ranks and on 55 minutes they netted again. Harry Maguire got himself into a pickle inside the area and fouled Muriqi, who slotted home from the spot to give the visitors hope of a remarkable turnaround.
Kane had the chance to make the final 20 minutes a less nervy affair but was denied from the penalty spot by Arijanet Muric - it was Kane's first missed penalty in his last 15 spot-kicks. Sterling then hit the post when through on goal as Kosovo remained a threat, pushing plenty of numbers forward but they could never really land a significant glove on Southgate's exciting side.
Manager reaction: Gareth Southgate
"It was bizarre....They say international football is dull, well it wasn't tonight.
"The outstanding features and the poor features are apparent to everybody. We made poor individual mistakes but showed good composure to recover from those mistakes. The forward play was outstanding at times. Raheem Sterling's performances have been of the highest level. He was almost unstoppable."
Sterling: My best performance
Sterling said: "It was my best England performance in the first half. We were ruthless but at this level, we had to finish the game. In the big tournaments we can't be giving teams any chances. We must finish games off. We must make the teams earn their goals and cut out the sloppy mistakes."
England: The good bad and the ugly
- Kosovo became the first team to score three away goals in a competitive international against England since Croatia in November 2007.
- England have scored five goals in three different matches in 2019 - the first time they've done so that many times in a calendar year since 1960 (also three).
- Berisha's goal after 34 seconds was the first goal scored inside the first minute of an England international since Southgate scored against South Africa in May 2003.
- Sancho (19 years, 169 days) became the youngest player to score more than once in a game for England since Wayne Rooney in June 2004 against Croatia (18 years, 241 days).
England have another batch of back-to-back qualifying fixtures to contend with next month when they face trips to Czech Republic and Bulgaria.