Lallana adds gloss finish to colourless start for Allardyce era

IGNORING the first 94 minutes of his reign, this was just the start Sam Allardyce wanted, England players flooding the box, getting a break and a goal. Spray that champagne.

Adam Lallana celebrates his last-minute winner for England but it was an uninspiring beginning for new manager Sam Allardyce. Picture: Getty

A swarm of red shirts set off towards the travelling fans at the far corner in pursuit of Adam Lallana as if the World Cup were sitting in the stands awaiting their hands. Big Sam let off a volley of right handers that might have put Anthony Joshua away.

What a moment. What a night. Except, for the most part, it was precisely the opposite. As new dawns go, this was right up there with the post-Fergie era of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal at Manchester United, the Chelsea grind of Rafa Benitez, as appetising as day-old custard.

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And this was meant to be fun, remember. The Big Sam laugh-a-minute spectacular. How depressingly predictable. It’s unfair to lay it all at Allardyce’s door, of course. After a generation of underwhelming nothingness, English football fans have grown used to flatlining on the international stage.

It is a wonder they can still be bothered to roll out those flags. From Rochdale to Norwich, Blackpool to Nottingham the love adorned the Stadion Antona Malatinskeho in twee Trnava. At places like this the travelling England supporter can truly Lord it, basking in the omnipotence of the English Premier League.

And then the game kicks off. Raheem Sterling, a revelation under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, reverts to the aimless, fumbling possession killer of the latter 
Pellegrini period. He was 
fortunate to last 70 minutes.

Harry Kane, a blood and thunder rapier for Tottenham Hotspur in the EPL, was the blunt tool we saw at the Euros.

Wayne Rooney’s promise of retirement two years hence becomes a matter of regret for all the wrong reasons. Might you reconsider Wayne, and go now? Bizarrely, Allardyce thought his skipper exemplary, blinded by the light of three points, obviously.

Where was the swagger, the belief? After the ubiquitous huddle before kick-off we waited a full 21 minutes for a dynamic exchange, Kyle Walker set free by Lallana down the right. In advance of the defender, Walker’s cross caused the first sign of panic in the Slovakia defence.

It proved a rare puff of wind. In a dull reprise of United under Van Gaal, the first half passed in a stodge of sideways and backwards movement, meaningless possession heaped on meaningless possession.

Lallana was at the centre of what excitement there was before the break, at the heart of the move that led to Sterling shooting wide and reversing a pass for Kane to whistle one behind off a defender’s heel. To be fair, Rooney apart, Allardyce saw it pretty much the same way in the first half, urging his players to get the ball forward quicker, imploring Sterling, Jordan Henderson and Lallana to seek out Kane faster.

The introduction of Dele Alli on the hour for the prosaic Henderson was the move Allardyce should have made at the start. Alli demands the ball, takes it on the half-turn in tight spaces and offers an immediate threat.

Suddenly England were a more potent proposition. To speak the tongue of Big Sam, England were at it, mind you they were at it against ten men by then following Martin Skrtel’s red card for two bookings.

Allardyce saw the win as richly merited, reward for persistence against a resolute team. This version of history could only have been written by the winner, snatched when Lallana managed to squeeze a pretty tame effort beyond goalkeeper Matus Kozacik.

In truth England were lucky, and, against a full compliment of players, easily repelled.

SLOVAKIA: Kozacik, Pekarik, Skrtel, Durica, Hubocan, Mak (Kubik 71), Gregus, Pecovsky (Gyomber 56), Hamsik, Svento (Kiss 78), Duris. Subs not used: Novota, Povazanec, Pich, Sylvestr, Pauschek, Stetina, Dubravka.

ENGLAND: Hart,Walker, Cahill, Stones, Rose, Henderson (Alli 64), Dier, Sterling (Walcott 70), Rooney, Lallana,Kane (Sturridge 82). Subs Not Used: Heaton, Smalling,Jagielka,Clyne,Drinkwater,Vardy, Antonio,McCarthy.

Referee: M Mazic (Serb)