Last-gasp Lallana gets Allardyce’s England era off to a winning start
New England manager Sam Allardyce saw his period in charge — and England’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign — begin with a victory thanks to Adam Lallana’s late, late goal. With four minutes of injury time up, Danny Rose fired a low ball in and Lallana’s low effort sneaked in off goalkeeper Matus Kozacik.
England had come closest to a breakthrough when Lallana saw a fine effort cannon back off a post with 15 minutes remaining, but otherwise there was little to remember in a game that saw home defender Martin Skrtel dismissed for two bookings. And there was little to admire in a disjointed opening half in which England struggled to string their passes together.
But Allardyce did see his side work a promising move early on when Raheem Sterling and Kyle Walker teamed up on the right before Slovakia cleared the cross. Just before the 10-minute mark, Wayne Rooney — playing in a deep-lying role on the day he became England’s record outfield caps-holder — chipped a pass over the top but Lallana was unable to get a shot in.
Lone England striker Harry Kane, meanwhile, was struggling to get involved and cut a frustrated figure at the far post as a Rooney cross sailed harmlessly out of play. Kane made an important intervention at the other end soon afterwards when a John Stones foul led to a Slovakia free-kick which the Tottenham striker cleared under pressure, and after Lallana led to counter-attack home goalkeeper Kozacik dealt with the cross.
Moments later, England should have been in front when Walker arrowed in a low cross but Spurs teammate Kane, seemingly poised to sidefoot home some six yards out, failed to make contact. Kane was then flattened by Skrtel — who was booked for swinging an arm — before Slovakia had their best chance of the evening when Rose lost possession and, when the ball bounced across goal, the sliding Dusan Svento was just unable to turn it in.
A drab first period ended without either side mustering a shot on target, with its last opportunity falling to Sterling who could only steer the ball across goal when he picked up possession inside the box after a defensive muddle.
Sterling was involved again as England began the second half more convincingly, first seeing a cross palmed away and then cutting inside before his shot from just inside the area was deflected wide. Kane, on the right of the area, looked as though he was going to try a shot before instead chipping in a cross that hit Skrtel and was claimed easily by keeper Kozacik.
After 57 minutes, England’s hopes appeared to be boosted when Skrtel was dismissed when, after he had won the ball from Kane, he stamped on his ankle.
But they failed to take the initiative and were grateful to Danny Rose, who produced a fine header clear as Slovakia crossed from the left, before Lallana fired well over after Henderson had ushered the ball through to him.
Allardyce brought on Tottenham’s Dele Alli for Henderson soon afterwards, and he flicked the ball on in a move that led to Rooney’s snapshot from the edge of the area — the first effort on target of the match — being parried by Kozacik after 63 minutes.
England were finally beginning to construct a spell of pressure, and Kane saw an optimistic effort from an angle balloon away off a defender.
Allardyce made another change, introducing Arsenal’s Theo Walcott for Raheem Sterling with 20 minutes remaining. Within seconds of that change Rooney whipped a 25-yard free-kick over the wall but onto the roof of the net — a free-kick awarded when England felt they should have had an advantage that would have seen them through on goal.
With 15 minutes remaining, the visitors came agonisingly close when Lallana hit the post and Walcott miscued his attempted half-volley from the rebound, skewing it across goal.
With time running out, Daniel Sturridge came on for Kane — but Liverpool midfielder Lallana, who had fired wide moments before, was to have the last word.