A ludicrous encounter unfolded at St Mary’s as England beat Kosovo 5-3 to record a fourth straight victory in Euro 2020 qualifying.
The game began in remarkable fashion as Michael Keane coughed up possession on the edge of his own area, Vedat Muriqi feeding Valon Berisha, who swept the visitors into the lead after just 35 seconds.
Having been the villain in the opening moments, the Everton centre-back somewhat redeemed himself within five minutes of his dreadful error. He rose highest to guide a Ross Barkley corner onto the grateful head of Raheem Sterling, the winger nodding home from five yards out.
The Three Lions put a nightmare start behind them when goalscorer turned provider, the Manchester City star feeding Harry Kane, whose drilled effort sliced through Arijanet Muric’s legs.
England took the game beyond the Dardanians as the first-half drew to a close
Key Talking Point
In terms of England’s attack, the line is: it’s coming home. The defence, however, is still stuck in traffic. A flurry of errors from the hosts just about kept the Dardanians in the contest and better sides will not let Gareth Southgate’s men off so easily.
Kosovo were in this. They were very much in this and the Three Lions were made to fight for both possession and territory. Nevertheless, this would have been a straightforward three points had the backline been more assured.
On a more positive note, the attacking trident of Sterling, Kane and Sancho looks deadly. The trio were in scintillating form on the south coast and their performances mean this was still an encouraging display for England supporters.
Starting XI: Pickford (6); Alexander-Arnold (6), Keane (4), Maguire (5), Chilwell (7); Rice (6), Henderson (6), Barkley (7); Sancho (8), Sterling (9*), Kane (8).
Substitutes: Mount (5), Rashford (7).
STAR MAN – Raheem Sterling
Any one of the frontline could have earned the Man of the Match accolade, but Sterling takes it for his all-round contribution.
Sancho can be mightily proud of his showing, the teenager getting off the mark for his nation with a cool brace. Kane will likewise be pleased with his night’s work, despite spurning a chance form the spot.
Yet it was Sterling who tied everything together. Dropping deep to link play, finding teammates in great positions and a general menace for his opponents, the 24-year-old continues to shine on the international stage.
Raheem Sterling was once criticised by some of the biggest hypocritical gobshites in this country because he had a gun tattoo. Nobody can be sure of their motivations but they are all quiet now. England’s best player by some distance, a simply brilliant footballer. The end.
— Luke Edwards (@LukeEdwardsTele) September 10, 2019
Where would #eng be without Raheem Sterling? England’s most important player without question. Led fightback after Kosovo took early lead. Headed equaliser, then too strong for Rrahmani, pacy run and superb pass for assist for Kane. Sterling’s truly world class. #engkos
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) September 10, 2019
Starting XI: Muric (4); Vojvoda (5), Rrahmani (6), Aliti (8), Hadergjonaj (5); Voca (6), Halimi (6); Muslija (7), Celina (8), Berisha (6); Muriqi (6).
Substitutes: Rashkaj (7), Paqarada (6), Hasani (5).
1 – Valon Berisha’s goal was the first goal scored inside the first minute of an England match since May 2003, when Gareth Southgate scored against South Africa. Rapid. pic.twitter.com/O5BZUkFemQ
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 10, 2019
England are next in action on 11 October as they travel to the Czech Republic to face a side they demolished 5-0 in round one of the European Championship qualifiers. They make the trip to Sofia three days later to do battle with Bulgaria.
Kosovo take on Gibraltar in a friendly 24 hours before the Three Lions play in Prague, with a Group A home game against Montenegro to follow on 14 October.