England close in on World Cup qualification after limp Slovakia win

  • Eric Dier and Marcus Rashford goals help the Three Lions come from behind to win at Wembley.

  • Dele Alli could face action after directing offensive gesture towards referee.

England manager Gareth Southgate praises Dele Alli despite middle finger gesture controversyHayters

England are within a win of securing a place at the 2018 World Cup after a comeback win over Slovakia in front of the lowest Wembley crowd for three years. Victory in either of Three Lions' remaining two qualifiers will be enough to secure a place in Russia next summer but they were pushed all the way by their Group F rivals.

Gareth Southgate's side fell behind inside three minutes after Stanislas Lobotka took advantage of some ponderous England play to give the visitors the lead - the first goal conceded in a home qualifier since 2014. Eric Dier equalised from a corner but Joe Hart had to save from Adam Nemec at the start of the second half to ensure the scores remained level.

And in an otherwise tight second 45 minutes, Manchester United's Marcus Rashford provided the illuminating moment with the winning goal; struck from 20 yards to send England five points clear and safe in the knowledge passage to a 15th World Cup can be cemented by beating either Slovenia or Lithuania in their concluding qualifiers in October. However, though his side earned the win which was expected, Southgate is confronted with more questions than answers after another disjointed display.

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The evening was also overshadowed by Dele Alli appearing to direct an offensive gesture towards the referee which, if included in the official's post-game report, could see him reprimanded by Fifa.

Southgate reacted to the boos which accompanied the laboured win over group whipping boys Malta with two changes as Rashford was handed just his second competitive start alongside Dier. Qualification rivals Slovakia themselves made a pair of alterations from the weekend win over Slovenia, among them seeing captain Martin Skrtel return to the defence.

Slovakia had offered little in the opening group game a year ago when they frustrated England for long periods with 10 men, before Adam Lallana's late goal secured victory. But with a place atop of Group F with two matches to play on offer at Wembley a renewed sense of ambition would be duly rewarded.

Jan Kozak's side looked to take advantage of the uncertainty in the England ranks from the first whistle and inside 153 seconds had the lead. Rashford was disposed deep into his own half by Lobotka, who exchanged passes with Nemec and tucked beyond the helpless Joe Hart to stun the home of English football.

Rashford, Kane and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain responded with efforts of varying inaccuracy as the hosts struggled to make inroads. Meanwhile, Slovakia appeared anything but overawed by the occasion and were the more threatening going forward.

Therefore, when the equaliser did come it was greeted as much in surprise as in expectation. Rashford's miss-hit corner found Dier, who swept the ball home on the half-volley. Slovakia's feeling of injustice was compounded on the stroke of half-time when referee Clement Turpin overlooked Kyle Walker's rash tackle on Vladimir Weiss when the Al-Gharafa midfielder was clean through on goal.

Upon the resumption, England remained unable to cope with Slovakia's movement and Hart's reflexes had to be at their best when Marek Hamsik - making his 99th international appearance - picked out Nemec whose rasping volley was pushed behind by the West Ham United loanee.

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Three minutes later England had the lead for the first time. Robert Mak played a wayward pass into his own half and after Dele Alli and Jordan Henderson combined, Rashford fired beyond Martin Dubravka.

As Slovakia were unable to recapture their slick passing game from the opening half an hour, England closed out the game with the assurance which their performance during much of the 90 minutes had otherwise lacked. Yet, Southgate has plenty to consider ahead of not just the next group of qualifying games, but what is now an inevitable appearance at the World Cup next summer.

England came from behind to secure a much-needed win.Getty Images

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