Marcus Rashford comes up with the goods as Three Lions fight back
MARCUS RASHFORD answered the call to stand and deliver but Slovakia left Wembley feeling they had been robbed by a referee named Turpin.
Clement, not Dick, was the official from France and his decision not to penalise last man Kyle Walker for a foul on Vladimir Weiss on the stroke of half-time saved England from having to play the second half with 10 men.
They took full advantage as the young Manchester United striker showed the character to atone for the double mistake that gave Slovakia an early lead.
Rashford scored – his second England goal – to add to Eric Dier’s equaliser and take the team to a near-unassailable lead at the top of Group F.
And Alli looks set to escape ban for his middle-finger salute thanks to a precedent set by Lionel Messi in the summer.
The midfielder seemingly stuck his middle finger up at French referee Turpin late in the game, although Southgate said it was aimed towards team-mate Kyle Walker.
It was a much more encouraging performance from Gareth Southgate’s side after an uneasy ride from their own fans for the lacklustre performance in their last outing on Friday.
Having left early in Malta, many of the fans had clearly decided not to turn up at Wembley at all. One whole giant tier of the stadium sat empty as a measure of just how hard it is to win friends as well as points for England these days.
That latter process could not have begun more catastrophically as Rashford first lost possession and then lost his man.
Stanislav Lobotka picked his pocket on the edge of the area and then ran on to Adam Nemec’s instant pass to poke the ball far too easily under the arm of Joe Hart.
Already England were looking to Harry Kane to lead them out of trouble.
His first chance arrived after 15 minutes but the best the Tottenham talisman could do was fire a deflected shot wide.
Then, from the corner, nobody in an England shirt seemed capable of getting the ball goalwards despite an encouraging panic in the Slovakia defence.
Rashford pulled the ball back for Dele Alli to fire in an unconvincing shot as captain Jordan Henderson urged his players back into the game.
But it was time for some level heads not proud hearts. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain tried a ludicrously audacious lob from 25 yards when England had a counter and the sight of it flying over the bar set the glum-faced Southgate on a seething prowl from his seat to the edge of the technical area. Furious, he scribbled on his notepad.
He may not be an inspirational leader but nobody can say the slightly preppy former player is not one to do his homework.
It was an encouraging display of inventiveness from England rather than the Malta tactic of simply wearing the opposition down.
And unlike in Malta, they had to pay greater heed at the other end, with Hart standing strong to stop Nemec from converting a Slovakia counter-attack.
Alli probably should have put England in front when Kane’s shot popped up to him quickly from Dubravka’s glove, but he could only watch helplessly as the ball bounced harmlessly off his thighs.
But while he was far from the man of the third minute, Rashford proved to be the man of the hour.
The giant Wembley clock was clicking through its 59th minute, to be precise, when his low 25-yard drive managed to evade Dubravka and England were finally in front.
Even the supporters’ band at last began to pipe up a bit more. It had not been a virtuoso display but a few high notes and some pleasing interludes at least had the fans nodding along in appreciation again