England limped to a 1-0 victory over Slovenia to ensure qualification for Russia 2018 at Wembley on Thursday evening.
There was a real lack of cohesion in almost everything they did and a worrying over-reliance on Marcus Rashford, particularly in the first half.
Rashford was the main (perhaps even the only) threat for England in the first half.
Playing in the same wide left position he plays for Manchester United, England funneled the ball out to him at every opportunity.
From there, he proceeded to go at opposing full-back Aljaz Struna time after time. Rashford gave Struna an awful time but ultimately failed to get much quality into the box.
Another massive issue for England on the night was the lack of options Rashford had as the main danger man. All too often he was given the ball and offered little or no support.
It was almost like looking at the best player on an under 10’s side being given the ball on the halfway line and expected to run it into the goal from there.
One of England’s glaring weaknesses during that first half was their awful set-pieces.
This was highlighted by Kyle Walker stepping up to take a free kick at one point. Rashford has managed to get his hat in the ring around free kicks at Man Utd with some success and had an effort touched round the post on Thursday night.
However, his corners are wildly inconsistent. Too often his deliveries drop yards before the near post.
The lack of creativity from England’s central midfield pairing of Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier meant that there were no balls played in behind the defence for the forwards to run onto.
Instead, the ball was slowly worked out wide, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s influence on the game was non-existent so the burden fell on Rashford. As the game wore on it was good for neither the youngster himself nor his team.
England did manage to break from a corner they were defending in the second half. After some good work from Raheem Sterling to retain possession Rashford was played in.
As he bared down on the goalkeeper he opted for an audacious chipped effort which was cleared by a covering defender.
It was a sign of both his confidence and his inexperience.
The arrival of Rashford’s Man United teammate Jesse Lingard for ‘the Ox’ helped England stretch the game. The quality of the front four’s movement was greatly improved and the burden was lifted from Rashford somewhat.
He began to drift out of the game before being moved up front alongside Harry Kane in the dying stages. It was a sure sign of the faith manager Gareth Southgate has in him but given the nature of his side’s performance on the night it may be a little premature.
England eventually scored through the Tottenham axis of Kane and Walker, two players you would expect to shoulder a large part of the burden from the very first whistle.
Rashford is one of the most exciting young talents in world football but he’s not ready to be England’s talisman just yet.
Stephen Vaughen, Pundit Arena