Harry Kane scored a brace to help Gareth Southgate’s lacklustre England to a 4-0 win over minnows Malta in their 2018 World Cup qualifier on Friday.
Kane opened the score early in the second-half but three goals inside the last 10 minutes put a brighter sheen on the result than the performance deserved.
Ryan Bertrand — with a long range effort barely acknowledged by a far from happy looking Southgate — Danny Welbeck and Kane at the death secured the points in Malta and keeps them top of Group F by two points from Slovakia.
However, the English — boasting players whose salaries and transfer fees dwarfed that of their opponents — will need to put up a far better display at home to the Slovakians on Monday.
England — winning for just the second time in their last six matches and giving Southgate his first away win since he took over — started brightly and could have been 2-0 up inside the first five minutes.
Raheem Sterling should have done better when found brilliantly by Kane just yards out from the goal but the Manchester City star dallied and allowed England-born goalkeeper Andrew Hogg to come out and gather the ball.
Hogg was very active early on and pulled off a fine reaction save from Kane in the fifth minute the Spurs striker meeting club team-mate Dele Alli’s pinpoint cross with his head.
However, from that point on till the second minute of time added on and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s scuffed shot the Malta goalkeeper didn’t have another save to make.
The England players’ woeful performance saw them exit the pitch at half-time to a cacophony of boos and jeers from their fans.
– relief –
Southgate acted at half-time to remedy the lacklustre performance and took off Sterling sending on Manchester United youngster Marcus Rashford instead.
However, it was the hosts who came up with the first meaningful shot of the half Andre Schembri — the only player in the Malta squad to play in the top division of a European league for Apollon Limassol in Cyprus — fashioning out a half-volley that whistled past Hart’s far post.
Kane though at last broke the deadlock in the 53rd minute Alli doing superbly to draw two defenders to him then passing to his clubmate who made no mistake — earning a clap from Southgate more out of relief than joy.
Malta were far from disheartened, Sam Magri — a former England Youth international with the likes of Sterling and substitute Nathaniel Chalobah but now plying his trade with non league Ebbsfleet — fired in a decent long range effort that forced Hart to dive to cover it.
Kane showed he was just as dangerous from outside the box firing in a fierce effort on the hour mark that Hogg did well to save.
Bertrand and Welbeck added late goals before Kane sealed his double and his 10th in 20 internationals.
Rashford created it after refusing to follow Kyle Walker’s instruction and put the ball out because a Malta player was injured instead teeing up Kane.