Sam Allardyce needed a moment of luck to snatch victory on his debut as England manager, but goalscorer Adam Lallana had to share the credit with a shiny coin.
England were seconds away from starting their World Cup qualifying campaign with a stalemate against ten-man Slovakia. But Lallana turned familiar frustration into a dramatic win when his left-foot strike squirmed over the line to seal a 1-0 win in the closing moments of injury-time.
And while he has his new manager’s hearty thanks, Allardyce believes the good fortune might have had a different source. “I got this lucky penny off a lad today in the hotel,” he said, rolling the coin between his fingers.
“A father and his son in a wheelchair came to the hotel this morning and asked if it was OK to have a picture. When we finished he said: ‘Let me give you a lucky coin’. Here it is. I had it with me in my pocket, we won, so it’ll stay with me. I’m not really superstitious but I’m going to keep it. It’s got us a last-minute winner. I wonder how far it will take us?”
Lallana, who went goalless in his first 26 appearances under Roy Hodgson, was glad to be off the mark after almost three years of trying. “That goal has been a long time coming,’’ he said. “I put pressure on myself to score goals. Sometimes you’ve just got to stick it out until the last minute and thankfully we got the goal.’’
Victory was an improvement on the goalless draw Hodgson’s side managed against Slovakia in June, but some of the questions from Euro 2016 linger. Harry Kane again looked lethargic in attack, Raheem Sterling was short of an end product and Wayne Rooney’s role remains ripe for debate. On the occasion of his 116th cap – a new national record for an outfield player, overtaking David Beckham – he was expected to play behind Kane in a 4-2-3-1.
Instead Rooney retreated into the deep-lying midfield role he occupied at the end of Hodgson’s tenure, often tucking in behind Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier.
Allardyce hinted that he had allowed his captain the leeway to decide his own position but was surprised at how deep he dropped at times. “Today Wayne played wherever he wanted to. He was brilliant and controlled midfield. I can’t stop Wayne playing there,” he said. “He holds a lot more experience at international football than me as an international manager. Yes he played a bit deeper than he does at United, but Wayne’s comfortable when I talk to him, about the position.
“This is the most decorated outfield player in England. He’s won everything at Manchester United, more or less, at Champions League and domestic level. It’s not for me to say where he’s going to play. It’s up to me to ask whether he’s doing well in that position, and contributing.
“We’d like to get him into goalscoring positions more. He’s been a goalscorer all his life and I want him to do that again, but he reads a game as he reads it.”