Marcus Rashford atoned for a first-half error to score the winning goal as England came back from behind to beat Slovakia 2-1 at Wembley Stadium.
Rashford was caught dawdling on the ball in the opening stages of the match by Stanislav Lobotka, who played a one-two with Adam Nemec before firing past Joe Hart with less than three minutes on the clock. But despite his part in gifting the visitors their lead, the Manchester United youngster picked himself up and it was his corner which fed Eric Dier for the equaliser on 39 minutes.
This certainly helped calm England down and they were the better team after the break, and when Dele Alli and Jordan Henderson combined for Rashford just before the hour-mark, the 19-year-old made no mistake to register his second goal in 11 international appearances. Following the 4-0 win over Malta on Friday, Gareth Southgate’s side are now on the brink of securing their place at next year’s World Cup.
“We didn’t start the game well but I was pleased with the way the players reacted on the field,” Southgate told BBC Radio Five Live. “They got themselves into better positions. We were stretched in the first 15 minutes or so. Great credit to the players for staying in the game and then in the second half we were in control. We didn’t give them space to play. Rashford showed everything he has.”
England are now five points ahead of second-placed Slovakia with two matches remaining, and their win on Monday evening also gives Scotland hope of pinching that runners-up berth. Gordon Strachan’s side beat Malta 2-0 at Hampden Park thanks to Christophe Berra and Leigh Griffiths, and are now just a point behind the Slovaks as are Slovenia who made light work of beating Lithuania 4-0.
Northern Ireland’s superb qualifying campaign continued with a fine 2-0 win over Czech Republic, with Jonny Evans and Chris Brunt grabbing the goals. This means Michael O’Neill’s side will finish the group in runners-up spot, ensuring a playoff place. Germany remain top of Group C and thrashed Norway 6-0 to maintain their perfect record, whilst in the other match Azerbaijan beat Marino 5-1.
Poland remain on top of Group E following a 3-0 win over Kazakhstan, but both Montenegro and Denmark remain hot on their heels after recording wins over Romania (1-0) and Armenia (4-1) respectively. The Poles are top of the group on 19 points, but the Montenegrins and the Danes are both just three points remaining in what is shaping up to be a three-way battle for a place in Russia.