Slovakia vs England match report: Adam Lallana scores last-minute winner to get Sam Allardyce's new dawn off to flier

Slovakia 0 England 1: At a stroke of Lallana's boot, it felt as though the ghosts of France (and Iceland) had been exorcised in Allardyce's debut as manager

Adam Lallana is mobbed by his England team-mates after scoring a last-ditch winner
Adam Lallana is mobbed by his England team-mates after scoring a last-ditch winner

Wayne Rooney half-jokingly called on Sam Allardyce to ‘work his magic’ on England as the manager prepared for his first game in charge against Slovakia, but even the new man in charge would not have expected to pull a rabbit out of the hat to such dramatic effect.

Just as his first game in charge looked set to end in a frustrating stalemate – the second 0-0 draw in the space of two months against Slovakia – Adam Lallana emerged to score his first England goal and send Allardyce off to a winning start with a winner four minutes into stoppage time in Trnava.

The Liverpool midfielder had led the England charge in the dying stages, hitting the post and having a shot saved, before he sent a tired last-gasp shot through the legs of goalkeeper Matus Kozacik.

At a stroke, it felt as though the ghosts of France (and Iceland) had been exorcised.

Allardyce punched the air repeatedly and the players celebrated wildly in front of the 1700 travelling supporters who, for once, were repaid with a joyous victory on their travels rather than yet another disappointment.

With Slovakia reduced to ten men for the final 33 minutes following Martin Skrtel’s dismissal for two yellow card offences on Harry Kane, England almost ran out of road to make the hosts pay for their disadvantage.

But Lallana delivered when it mattered and England can now prepare for Malta at Wembley next month having made a winning start to Group F.

In a group devoid of a heavyweight rival for top spot, this trip to Trnava, 35 miles north-east of the capital Bratislava, potentially offered the sternest test of England’s credentials in Group F.

Martin Skrtel protests his first booking after elbowing Harry Kane

Scotland in Glasgow next June will provide the usual muck and nettles challenge of a home nations’ encounter, but Slovakia have claimed the scalp of Spain and Germany over the past two years, so Jan Kozak’s team possess recent pedigree, even if they chose to keep it firmly under wraps when frustrating England to a 0-0 draw in Saint Etienne during Euro 2016.

So it was a tough start for Allardyce, one perhaps eased by the complete absence of the kind of hostility and bear-pit atmosphere which often greets England in Eastern Europe.

Trnava’s 17.5000-capacity Stadion Antona Malatinskeho, opened just 13 months ago, was shiny and new, wiith a lush playing surface and a crowd of families who even applauded Wayne Rooney as his name was read out prior to the game.

It was all so sanitised and nice, but there are occasions when a footballer needs to play on the edge, needs to be fired up by a passionate home crowd, but there was no needle whatsoever and it led to a flat first-half in which neither goalkeeper had a shot to save.

The England fans chanted of being ‘On our way to Moscow,’ but the first-half suggested it would be a long and arduous journey to Russia 2018.

Allardyce began with a tactical surprise, beginning with a 4-1-4-1 formation that saw Rooney line up on the left of midfield, but the Manchester United forward did not convince in the role.

Lacking the explosive bursts of pace of his youth, Rooney now drifts deeper into midfield in search of the time and space he needs to see a pass, but the reality that he needs to play in the final third and, if he cannot, then Allardyce must instead turn to Dele Alli.

The first-half passed Rooney by, but he was not the only England player in that category.

Sam Allardyce watches on from the side-lines

Joe Hart, having retained his place in goal, almost gifted Slovakia a chance in the seventh minute when he scuffed a clearance form Gary Cahill’s back-pass and immediately placed his defence under pressure.

England and Hart survived that scare, just as they did later in the half when Danny Rose’s lack of concentration saw him dispossessed by Michal Duris, only for the Slovakian’s cross for Dusan Svento to prove too heavy for the forward.

England had their moments, but they were brief flashes of possibilities rather than clear-cut opportunities.

It was as though the recurring nightmare of Euro 2016, when England dominated possession in all four games but struggled to score, was returning to haunt Allardyce’s players.

Harry, displaying the lack of confidence from failing to score for Tottenham this season, pulled a ball back for Raheem Sterling when he could have shot six yards from goal.

And Sterling, in such fine form for Manchester City, then fluffed his chance when he shot wide from close range.

It was all so heavy going. England needed players capable of taking charge and stamping their authority on the game, but they were either not prepared to do it or lacked the quality to do so.

Jordan Henderson, never one to give anything but 100 per cent commitment, was always prepared to put the effort in, but the Liverpool captain is never going to be the man who makes the difference at this level.

It was not until Skrtel’s dismissal on 57 minutes – the former Liverpool defender could have been sent off on two occasions prior to his stamp on Kane – that England began to make headway and assert themselves.

Clearly, the advantage of an extra man played in their favour, but the introduction of Alli in place of Henderson also made a positive difference to England’s performance.

With Rooney dropping back to play alongside Eric Dier in front of the back four, Alli’s front-foot approach stretched the game for England and brought Kane to life, with the two players showing the understanding they developer at Spurs.

Alli almost diverted a Rooney shot into the net on 65 minutes, with goalkeeper Matus Kozacik spilling the strike and enabling Kane to win a corner from the loose ball.

Moments later, Sterling received the corner on the edge of the box and forced the back-pedaling Kozacik to tip over his lob from 20 yards.

England began to pin Slovakia on the ropes – Lallana rattled the post, with Walcott wasting the rebound before Lallana then saw a shot saved.

Kane then had a forceful strike blocked by Jan Durica, who the ghosts of Saint Etienne beginning to return.

On that occasion, Slovakia repelled everything that England could throw at them and the hosts seemed to relish the opportunity to put up the shutters again.

England were at least showing fight and the hunger required to find the crucial goal, but it just would not come.

Marcus Rashford, sat at St George’s Park preparing for the England U-21s fixture with Norway on Tuesday evening, must have wondered why on Earth he had been omitted form the squad for this game.

But just as time appeared to have run out, Lallana ‘did a Rashford’ by striking the winner with the last kick of the game.

1-0 to England and a winning start for Allardyce – both deserved.

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