Harry Kane’s injury-time winner secured England’s qualification for next summer’s World Cup with victory against Slovenia – but this was a display designed to dampen any sense of expectation.
Kane, England captain for the night, bundled in Kyle Walker’s cross for his 11th goal in 22 international appearances to finally break down Slovenia’s resistance as they looked likely to hold out for a point.
It meant manager Gareth Southgate can now start planning in earnest for Russia but could not cover up the cracks in an England performance that was lifeless, uninspired and mediocre.
Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling almost broke the deadlock before Kane made his breakthrough, the hosts were also grateful to much-criticised keeper Joe Hart for some crucial interventions.
England and Southgate have achieved their goal. It was not, however, achieved in a manner that will start alarm bells ringing for any future World Cup opposition.
Elsewhere in the group, Scotland kept their qualifying hopes alive in dramatic fashion as a late Martin Skrtel own goal gave them victory over 10-man Slovakia at Hampden Park.
England through but no celebrations
England’s qualification for Russia was confirmed by that late strike from Kane but Wembley was hardly awash with joyous scenes at the final whistle.
And that was because, for the large part, this was a desperately poor England performance as they struggled to find a way through a well-drilled Slovenia.
The scale of the excitement – or lack of it – on offer was illustrated by the fact many England’s fans spent most of the second half amusing themselves by hurling paper aeroplanes at each other.
It was also an atmosphere tempered by the reality of England’s current standing apart from the elite of the international game.
England carry a forward threat in the shape of Kane and Rashford, who will be supplemented by Dele Alli when he is free from suspension, but the glaring lack of creativity elsewhere – especially in central midfield – must represent a real concern for Southgate.
Southgate has achieved phase one of the task presented to him when he succeeded Sam Allardyce, but on this evidence England will not travel to Russia accompanied by any serious weight of expectation.