England maintained their 100 per cent Euro 2016 qualifying record with a 2-0 Group E win over Estonia at Wembley on Friday night.
Roy Hodgson’s side had wrapped up the group with two matches to spare and it showed in a drab affair against a defensive-minded Estonia.
Theo Walcott fired England ahead on the stroke of half-time after he timed his run to perfection to collect Ross Barkley’s superb through ball before side-footing home.
Walcott made way for Jamie Vardy with 10 minutes remaining and the Leicester man made an instant impact as he got on the end of Harry Kane’s flick to square the ball for Raheem Sterling (85) to tap home and seal the points.
Kane, Walcott and Sterling were the attacking triumvirate in the absence of England captain Wayne Rooney.
The 29-year-old was one of five changes to the Three Lions side that beat Switzerland last month, with Adam Lallana and Barkley coming into a midfield that included James Milner.
Ryan Bertrand replaced the injured Luke Shaw at left-back while manager Roy Hodgson did not risk Michael Carrick in the squad after a groin complaint.
An ankle complaint meant Manchester United team-mate Rooney also missed out, but he was amongst the impressive Wembley crowd of 75,427.
Rather than just cheering on the side, though, the forward was in attendance as last month’s record-breaking feat was recognised before kick-off.
Sir Bobby Charlton, the man usurped after 45 years, presented a golden boot to Rooney as the skipper’s name echoed around the stadium – a feel-good factor Hodgson’s men attempted to build on early on.
Taijo Teniste had to be alert to close down Sterling and only Mihkel Aksalu’s fine diving save prevented Walcott firing home an exceptional volley from the resulting corner.
Under-pressure Barkley could only direct a Lallana through ball straight at the Estonia goalkeeper as England looked for an opener, with the Everton playmaker wasting an even better chance soon after when Askalu inexplicably pushed Bertrand’s firm cross back into the box.
The hosts were dominating proceedings without exerting any real energy, with Lallana’s deflected attempt and stand-in captain Gary Cahill’s wayward header the best they could muster as a subdued encounter rolled on.
Things would have certainly got a lot more interesting had Estonia managed to capitalise on a brief threatening period.
Teniste was blocked after Ats Purje wriggled free in the box, before Konstantin Vassiljev got past Milner on the left and sent in a cross that Chris Smalling cleared over his own goal.
Their brief threat soon subsided, though, with Walcott firing wide from the edge of the box before Teniste made a timely block from his next attempt.
Milner had two long-range efforts before the opener finally arrived seconds before half-time.
Barkley, England’s most creative outlet, played a fine slide-rule pass to Walcott, who snuck behind the Estonia backline and rolled home.
While the Arsenal attacker was making his mark in Rooney’s absence, a fellow forward from across north London was struggling.
Kane was failing to make his mark as centre-forward and will not want to see a replay of the attempted volley that bounced off his standing leg early in the second half.
It was an embarrassing moment that would have been forgotten had Askalu not come to Estonia’s rescue, following up his save from Lallana’s initial curling effort to deny the Tottenham striker.
It was a rare moment of entertainment for the large Wembley crowd, whose only real excitement was coming from Barkley’s marauding runs.
Having shown poor decision-making with his first surge forwards, the 21-year-old did far better next time, jinking between two players, driving forwards and arrowing across the face of goal.
It took another moment of magic from Barkley to awake the fans from their slumber after a testing period of hopeful efforts and dull football.
His exceptional feet saw him again slip past Estonian attention, sneaking into the box and hitting an attempt that was well saved.
Sterling was also proving a handful as the match wore on, curling wide and getting blocked before finally finding the net in the 85th minute.
Substitute Vardy got the better of the defender and unselfishly crossed for the Manchester City winger to fire home from close range.
Tottenham teenager Dele Alli was introduced moments later for his England debut in place of Barkley, who was deservedly given a fine reception after a man-of-the-match display.
England have one group game remaining – against Lithuania on Monday night – when they will hope to complete their perfect qualification to next summer’s finals in France and become only the sixth side ever to go through Euro qualification with a 100 per cent record.