Big Sam & his lucky stars

England's Adam Lallana (far left) celebrating with Gary Cahill after scoring his team's one and only goal in the 95th minute. Sam Allardyce's side prevailed over 10-man Slovakia for a winning start to England's 2018 World Cup qualifiers in Group F.
England's Adam Lallana (left) celebrating with Gary Cahill after scoring his team's one and only goal in the 95th minute. Sam Allardyce's side prevailed over 10-man Slovakia for a winning start to England's 2018 World Cup qualifiers in Group F.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

Allardyce stays positive despite England's lacklustre game and a 95th-minute winner

TRNAVA (Slovakia) • Not everyone is convinced Sam Allardyce is the right man to lead the England football team but on Sunday's evidence he has fortune on his side, a quality his predecessors have often lacked over the years.

England produced the sort of performance in their opening 2018 World Cup qualifier against Slovakia that cost Roy Hodgson his job on the back of a Euro 2016 campaign that ended in an embarrassing shock defeat by Iceland.

For all their possession, particularly against 10 men when Slovakia captain Martin Skrtel was sent off for a stamp on Harry Kane, they lacked the wherewithal to make their dominance pay in a lacklustre Group F encounter in Trnava.

Then, in the 95th minute, Adam Lallana produced a hopeful shot which Slovakia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik should have saved.

Instead, the ball trickled through his legs and into the net for a 1-0 win, leaving Allardyce punching the air on the touchline.

A GOOD GAME

We hit the post, had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside, had several shots on target... then Adam scores... It can never come better than that.

SAM ALLARDYCE, England manager, on his team's performance in the 1-0 win.

Hodgson must have been punching the television.

The former manager often said Lallana would soon add goals to his game and here he was, in the last second of his 27th international, fulfilling Hodgson's prophesy for another manager.

Helping the midfielder out was a goalkeeper who was outstanding as the teams shared a goal-less draw at Euro 2016 when Hodgson was criticised for making several changes to his line-up.

That game was held up as indicative of England's tournament failings, yet Allardyce on his debut as manager fielded almost the same group of players against the same side and won.

Such are the fine margins football managers live by.

Allardyce knows his task is to find the right formation for some obviously talented individuals.

There were signs in the second half that, with the introduction of Dele Alli, who failed to fire at Euro 2016, that England were moving in the right direction.

Captain Wayne Rooney clearly remains key to their chances.

Before the game, Allardyce said he had no intention of telling such an experienced international where to play and so the decision for Rooney to drop deep, as he also did under Hodgson at Euro 2016, was presumably the player's.

The 30-year-old, who played his 116th international to become England's most capped outfield player ahead of David Beckham, started the game in midfield alongside Jordan Henderson in a 4-1-4-1 system.

He pushed up into a more orthodox No. 10 role at half-time, only to retreat to a midfield holding role after Allardyce sent on Alli for Henderson.

Though the captain hit some nice passes, and Allardyce described his performance as "brilliant", Rooney's display received criticism from the British media.

"Even when he is trying to dominate play, he does not give the impression that he is evolving into another Paul Scholes or Andrea Pirlo," wrote Oliver Kay in The Times, London.

"He passes the ball effortlessly at times, but he does not have Scholes' or Pirlo's ability to dictate and vary the tempo of a game.

"He has always been an instinctive player, so it remains difficult to see how he will develop the intellect that is needed if he is truly to master that kind of role."

Rooney, nevertheless, felt he did a good job. "Too much is getting made about it," he told Sky Sports. "I am happy where I'm playing and I think I'm doing a good job."

Overall, England struggled to shrug off familiar problems, controlling the game without looking like winning it. But Allardye sounded positive.

"We hit the post, had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside, had several shots on target and saw their goalkeeper make some saves, then Adam scores... It can never come better than that," he said.

"Hopefully we can get better. We have to try to be more effective breaking defences down."

The performance was not pretty, but as England's new maxim proclaims, the journey has begun.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2016, with the headline 'Big Sam & his lucky stars'. Print Edition | Subscribe