Gareth Southgate’s England side were forced to rely on a late flurry of goals to be sure of a thrashing against a stern Maltese side to stay on top of Group F at The Ta’ Qali National Stadium last night.
Remarkably, the hosts put up a fight in the first-half and managed to keep the scores even at the break, but the quality of the Three Lions showed in the end with a little help from Harry Kane, Ryan Bertrand, and Danny Welbeck of course.
Southgate fielded a strong starting Xl that included the likes of Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling, and Kyle Walker. But the main focus was on who would take over from the retired Wayne Rooney as captain and that responsibility fell to Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson.
However, the hosts had a number of semi-professionals in their side, with Ebbsfleet United defender Sam Magri being picked to face an opponent that is very close to home for him.
National treasure and all-time top goal scorer Michael Mifsud, had to settle for a place on the bench as did Luton Town’s Luke Gambin.
Malta, who have the worst disciplinary record of the whole qualifying stage, was the more physical side and they relied on that alone to hold out a pressing Three Lions in the early stages.
However, the boys in Blue taking the lead was inevitable by the time that it came, with the Maltese resistance unable to trouble Joe Hart or last very long defensively in the second period.
On 53 minutes, Alli was presented with an excellent shooting opportunity in the box as he twisted and turned away from defenders to find his Tottenham Hotspur teammate Kane to finish easily past Andrew Hogg.
Despite Southgate’s men getting their noses in front, the floodgates would not open and a tough Malta side would still prove tough to crack.
The 1966 World Cup winners would have to wait until the 85th minute for a second and that came via Southampton full-back Ryan Bertrand, as his low drive slipped under Hogg and into the back of the net.
A third was added on a sizzling night in Malta soon after, as substitute Danny Welbeck stole in front of the keeper to convert a Kane delivery.
Just to be sure, the cherry was placed on the cake for the visitors as the former golden boot precipitant completed his brace after a finishing off a wonderful ball from Marcus Rashford in added time. After all, it is now September.
Defeat for the Pietro Ghedin‘s men ensures that they are still without a qualifying win on home turf since the 1970’s and remain at the foot of the group without a single point to speak of.
Next up for the Maltese is a trip to Hampden Park to face an in form Scottish side, as they are coming into the tie having thumped Lithuania 0-3 away from home to keep their slim hopes of reaching the common goal alive.
Whereas, England are now primed to qualify for Russia 2018 having maintained their lead at the top of Group F at two points, with their fifth and second heaviest victory over The Knights Of Malta in International Football.
The Three Lions will be back at Wembley Stadium for their next fixture on the road to the World Cup on Monday night against Slovakia.
If results go their way, automatic progression to the tournament can be sealed on that evening, with a Maltese victory over The Scots.
Man of the Match: Harry Kane