Harry Kane scored twice as England bagged four second-half goals to see off Malta 4-0 in their World Cup qualifying clash in Valletta on Friday.
Kane stroked home in the 53rd minute before late goals from Ryan Bertrand, Danny Welbeck and a second from the striker added considerable gloss to the scoreline.
England maintain a two-point advantage over Slovakia in Group F but manager Gareth Southgate still has much to consider. Here, we pick out five talking points from the game…
Southgate’s big test
This was Southgate’s first away win as England boss at the fifth attempt and before a late flurry of goals his team made hard work of it against a side ranked 190th in the world. The coach’s decision to retain a shape that included two holding midfielders in Jordan Henderson and Jake Livermore certainly did not lend itself to attacking verve.
England did get there in the end thanks to three late goals but there is some way to go before Southgate’s side comes close to sparking anything approaching optimism in the country. Slovakia will be the bigger test back on home soil and Southgate will surely be looking for his players to move the ball far more quickly at Wembley.
Harry’s hoodoo over
If Southgate is to succeed he will need Kane to fire so he will be grateful that the Tottenham forward is up and running again after his now trademark August struggles. Kane is still without a Premier League goal in that month but the first day of September brought rather better results. “I should be good to go now,” he had joked beforehand.
There were signs in the early stages as Kane was denied with a firm header inside four minutes and he even came up with a good assist for Welbeck’s goal too. In truth, it will be no surprise if the two-time Premier League top scorer nets regularly from now on. England could do with the next one coming against Slovakia on Monday evening.
Is Hart still the man?
There was some surprise that Southgate named Hart as his goalkeeper despite the 30-year-old being England’s longstanding No 1. Hart has endured a difficult start to his loan spell at West Ham, losing his first three games, and with Jack Butland back to fitness this looked to be a good opportunity to give the younger man a chance ahead of next year’s World Cup.
Hart was not tested at all by Malta, keeping a comfortable clean sheet on the occasion of his 72nd cap. With Southgate stressing that he has “seen nothing” in the early stages of the season to axe his goalkeeper, will Butland get the chance to show what he can do in the role against Slovakia or will the debate move on to the next international break?
Jones and Cahill now
One England player who is likely to be feeling more upbeat about his easy night’s work is Phil Jones. The Manchester United man had not been selected as a centre-back in a back-four for England in almost two years and not started alongside Gary Cahill in such a system since another 4-0 win – against Lithuania – in March 2015. Is this England’s first-choice pairing now?
Jones has struggled to shake off the expectation that came with Sir Alex Ferguson’s claim that he could become United’s best ever player, but he is still only 25 and is impressing Jose Mourinho. For all the talk of John Stones’ vast potential, Jones is making progress too. Southgate might feel a little nearer to knowing his central defensive partnership.
There is less certainty about England’s wide options. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain wants to play centrally at club level but was used on the right wing in Malta, while Raheem Sterling struggled badly during the first half from the moment he wasted a good opportunity in the opening moments. Perhaps Marcus Rashford could have a few answers.
The teenager injected urgency to England’s attack after replacing Sterling at the interval, providing the assist for Kane’s second goal. With Rashford operating on the left for his club, there is an opportunity for him to make the role his own. Southgate will be tempted to give him that chance on Monday when England can all but secure their World Cup berth.