Euro 2020 Qualifiers: 3 reasons why England beat Kosovo 5-3
Goals from Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Mergim Vojvoda's own goal and a brace for Jadon Sancho helped Gareth Southgate's England to prevail in an eight-goal thriller against a determined but naive Kosovo display at St. Mary's. After four Group A fixtures, the Three Lions are top in the race for Euro 2020 qualification.
The hosts found themselves behind after just 35 seconds, as Michael Keane's mistake in possession was duly punished by Lazio midfielder Valon Berisha. The Everton centre-back soon atoned for his error though, as a headed flick-on set up Sterling.
He headed home to equalise just seven minutes after as the hosts quickly found their rhythm. Kane gave England the lead eleven minutes later, with a low and hard finish through Arijanet Muric's legs at his near post. Their lead was soon doubled, as promising work on the flank from Sancho was rewarded after drilling a cross into the box, which Standard Liege right-back Mergim Vojvoda turned into his own net.
They refused to take their foot off the pedal before the interval, with Sterling and Sancho combining in transition to devastating effect. Sterling teed up the 19-year-old twice, to convert his first and second international goals at senior level just before half-time.
That handsome advantage should have been enough for Southgate's men to cruise to the finish, though it was not without some panic. Berisha completed his brace to make it 5-2 after the break with an excellent strike, leaving Jordan Henderson in his wake after a perfectly-weighted pass by Vedat Muriqi.
Then, the Fenerbahce forward got himself on the scoresheet six minutes later from the spot. Needlessly hauled down in the box by a sliding Harry Maguire, he fired beyond Jordan Pickford's best efforts to pose yet more questions of England's defensive frailties. Kane had a spot-kick of his own thwarted by Muric and Sterling hit the post while Swansea midfielder Bersant Celina was agonisingly close to setting up a grandstand finish at St. Mary's.
During a thrilling encounter on the south coast, Kosovo's 15-match unbeaten run has come to an abrupt end. It came against an England side among the favourites for next summer's tournament and is a performance they will take pride from. It would also be equally frustrating for they could have done more to prevent defeat and earn a hard-fought away point at least. Without further ado, here's three reasons why England were 5-3 winners on this occasion.
#3 Their visitors showed them too much respect
Given their impressive unbeaten record prior to this fixture, Kosovo's quick start wasn't particularly surprising. England themselves have weaknesses that can be exploited, as evidenced by recent results against lesser sides.
But once you gift them an opportunity to get back into proceedings, so soon after scoring yourselves, you're asking for trouble. Kosovo conceded five and really shouldn't have, if they harbour aspirations of being an ever-growing European nation fearless of sides above them.
They played well in stages and worked hard, but that was only really evident once they had a deficit to overturn - rather than the other way around. It always felt inevitable that England would score at some stage, but the goals they conceded were largely preventable.
Take their first two goals, for example, the first came from a corner that was poorly defended, they had everyone in the box and yet when Ross Barkley's delivery was whipped in, they all looked lost and were caught ball-watching.
6ft 3in Michael Keane was ready and towering to meet the ball, but couldn't have asked for a better opportunity to atone for his prior error. Hellas Verona defender Amir Rrahmani was unaware, backpedalling and found himself jumped over in precisely the area he should have been marshalling.
If that was a soft goal to concede, Kane's was even easier. They allowed England too much time and space in possession without making them uncomfortable and paid for it, but when your captain sprints to the halfway line and gets left for dead by an alert Sterling, what can you do?
Rrahmani was left looking naive as his defensive teammates were forced to try and delay, but Sterling sped through and fed Kane. One half-step shifted Vojvoda out of his striking range before letting fly, making no mistake to give England a 2-1 lead without getting out of second gear.
You could scrutinise all eight goals in the same manner, but the point here is that Kosovo defended poorly and made attacking even more straightforward for England on this occasion. It was like they didn't do their homework and despite such a promising start, gifted goals against a nation who doesn't need any help creating them.