England boss Sam Allardyce issued a staunch defence of his deployment of Wayne Rooney after the Three Lions laboured to a last-gasp victory in their opening World Cup qualifier against Slovakia in Trnava.
Allardyce had suggested in the build-up to his first match in charge that the England skipper would be utilised in a more attacking position than was the case under predecessor Roy Hodgson at Euro 2016, yet Rooney predominantly featured as a deep-lying midfielder.
For the large part England’s performance showcased the hallmarks of their failed European Championship campaign, possession without penetration, as they struggled to break Slovakia’s resistance even after defender Martin Skrtel had been shown a red card.
But England’s blushes were spared deep into stoppage time when Adam Lallana’s shot squirmed beyond Slovakia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik as the Liverpool midfielder registered his maiden international strike.
“Wayne played wherever he wanted to. He was brilliant and controlled midfield. I can’t stop Wayne playing there,” said Allardyce. “Yes, he played a bit deeper than he does at Manchester United, but Wayne’s comfortable.
“I think that he holds a lot more experience at international football than me as an international manager. It’s not for me to say where he’s going to play. It’s up to me to ask whether he’s doing well in that position and contributing. If so, great.
“We’d like to get him into goalscoring positions more. He’s been a goalscorer all his life and I want him to do that again, but he reads a game as he reads it.”
Allardyce had also said in the build-up that he would be satisfied a draw against their likely rivals for top spot in Group F, although he could not hide his elation at beginning his reign with victory – the ninth successive incumbent of the role to do so.
“It was a huge relief for me, I’ll tell you that now,” added Allardyce. “It puts us on a journey going forward. Hopefully we can get better.”
England failed to register a shot on target in a first half during which their attacking play lacked any form of zip. Harry Kane’s air-shot and a Raheem Sterling effort from the corner of the six-yard box which flew wide were their measly offerings.
Slovakia came closest to scoring when Michal Duris pounced on Tottenham full-back Danny Rose’s dithering defending, only for his ball across the six-yard box to narrowly evade the sliding Dusan Svento.
Former Liverpool centre-half Skrtel was already skating on thin ice when he picked up a second yellow card for an apparent stamp on Kane, which together with the introduction of Dele Alli seemed to spark England into life.
Lallana struck a post before substitute Theo Walcott had a late tap-in ruled out for offside as a repeat of England’s drab goalless draw against Slovakia during Euro 2016 looked inevitable.
But on the night Rooney made his 116th appearance for the Three Lions, more than any other outfield player, Lallana ensured their campaign began on a high by firing low through Kozacik in the 95th minute.