His strike, an absolute peach from the edge of the box, gave England a lead they deserved after falling behind to an early ambush, and more importantly it gave the nation’s long-suffering supporters a hero worth the price on the ticket.
Victory leaves England, still unbeaten in this campaign, needing only a point from their remaining two matches next month to make certain of a place at the World Cup in Russia.
England needed something to happen last night. The demand for that could be seen in Wembley’s empty upper tier that greeted the players as they walked onto the pitch. The fans are voting with their feet.
The degree of separation between the England squad and many of its followers was revealed post Malta in the offence taken by Gareth Southgate and Harry Kane at the negative noise emanating from the terraces.
Southgate believes supporters should back the team unconditionally. He needs to get out and about more amongst the nation’s youth, many of whom refuse to enter into a social contract with his team.
These kids do not submit tacitly to a love of the team in the way past generations did. It is 21 years since the Lightning Seeds told us football was coming home in their Euro 96 anthem.
Back then the love was unconditional. Now it must be earned and the way to do that is to excite the fans. The requirement then was for blood and thunder. A goal inside three minutes perhaps? Noted and delivered, but not by England, and revealing the callow side of his game it was Rashford who invited the blow. The exciting prodigee from Manchester United took the need to set pulses racing all too literally, and was robbed of possession as he dribbled out of his own box.
Thank you very much said Stanislav Lobotka, who, after exchanging a neat one-two with Adam Nemec, shot past Joe Hart from close range. Southgate was immediately off his seat imploring his team to remain calm.
Trying to atone immediately for his error, Rashford sprinted the length of the pitch, cut back on his right foot and drew a sharp save from Martin Dubravka. Maybe England had planned the early reverse just to inject the necessary urgency.
Kane might have scored in the 15th minute, his shot deflected for a corner. Dele Alli’s volley went the same way after Jordan Henderson and Rashford worked an opening down the right. England were certainly busy.
In what began as exemplary counter, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain undid his excellent work in dispossessing his opponent on the halfway line by blazing over with a hurried shot. England were meeting the call to action, but without the requisite composure. As the first half wore on Rashford and Oxlade-Chamberlain switched flanks and England began to infiltrate the space between Slovakia’s defensive lines. Eight minutes before the break they gained their reward, Eric Dier, pictured, clipping yet another Rashford corner into the roof of the Slovak net.
Much better. England had the momentum now and carried it into the second half. In the search for tempo there was at times a want of subtlety, a better pass, but the sense of purpose was welcome.
Though mostly in retreat, Slovakia were ever alert to the counter and, with the move of the match, produced the save of the night from Joe Hart, blocking a close range wallop from Nemec.
And then up stepped Rashford with his stunning intervention. As a species the English footballer has his critics, and so it is only right to laud a special talent. The moment Rashford collected possession centrally 20 yards out there was only one idea in his head.
Dubravka in goal was a passenger the moment the ball exploded off Rashford’s boot. Off he raced towards the corner flag to commune with the fans, his team-mates in hot pursuit. They knew what it meant, and what Rashford means for England’s future.