Harry Kane turned in a 94th-minute winner as England secured their place at next year's 2018 World Cup in Russia with a decidely limp 1-0 victory over Slovenia on Thursday.
England through after unconvincing performance
Gareth Southgate's side looked utterly bereft of ideas at a somewhat sombre, two thirds-full Wembley until skipper Kane converted Kyle Walker's cross to score his 14th goal in nine games for club and country.
The result leaves England six points clear at the top of Group F above neighbours Scotland, whose 1-0 win over 10-man Slovakia in Glasgow left them in pole position to claim the play-off place in the group.
“We know we have to be better, but we're going to a World Cup and that's fantastic”, Southgate said after the game. “I think this team has potential, but we have a hell of a lot of work to do. We weren't as sharp as we'd have hoped to be, but we stuck at it and it's not a coincidence if you keep scoring late goals”.
It is the sixth time in succession England have qualified for the World Cup, but after making such heavy work of defeating Slovenia, they are unlikely to give the game's superpowers many sleepless nights. Prior to Kane's strike, the 61,598 fans in attendance had taken to entertaining themselves by launching paper aeroplanes at the pitch.
Nevertheless, for Southgate it represented mission accomplished, a year on from his hasty appointment as manager, initially on an interim basis, after his predecessor Sam Allardyce was felled by a newspaper sting. Row upon row of empty red seats at Wembley, allied to a sleepy crowd, made for a soporific match in which England were repeatedly guilty of allowing Slovenia in behind them.
Kane and Rashford test Oblak from distance
Joe Hart was twice brought into action early on after Raheem Sterling and Walker conceded possession, while the unmarked Roman Bezjak miscued an attempted overhead-kick when picked out by Josip Ilicic. Spurs striker Kane, in his latest audition for the permanent captaincy, could regularly be seen dropping deep in an attempt to get his team going and he worked Jan Oblak with a 30-yard effort.
The Atlético Madrid keeper was properly tested shortly after, springing to his left to palm Jordan Henderson's effort behind. Marcus Rashford, stationed wide on the left, was England's most enterprising performer and he sent Oblak scuttling across his goal with an audacious attempt from a 35-yard free-kick in first-half stoppage time.
After another scare early in the second period, Hart almost fumbling a header from Bojan Jokic, England belatedly manufactured some thrust in the game's last third. Rashford and Sterling were each denied by last-ditch clearances, the former after under-cooking an attempted lob, the latter seeing a side-foot effort athletically diverted wide by Slovenia captain Bostjan Cesar.
Kane also dragged wide with his left foot, but had man-of-the-match Hart not raced out bravely to thwart substitute Tim Matavz, the hosts would have found themselves behind.
News of Scotland's goal against Slovakia lifted the pressure on England and they duly snatched victory when Kane launched himself at Walker's inviting cross to give the long-suffering home fans something to cheer at last. Slovenia must now win at home to Scotland in their final game on Sunday and hope Slovakia cannot beat minnows Malta if they are to squeeze into the play-offs.