England boss Sam Allardyce needs time to find X-factor & must control Wayne Rooney

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Sam Allardyce
Frustrated for 94 minutes, Sam Allardyce delighted in Adam Lallana's late winner

Sam Allardyce's reign opened with the result he desired, if not the performance, as England beat Slovakia in their opening World Cup qualifier in Trnava.

It was not a sparkling start, Adam Lallana's 95th-minute goal securing victory against a side that played more than 30 minutes with 10 men after captain Martin Skrtel was sent off.

Allardyce could be justified in suggesting beggars cannot be choosers and that winning was everything after England made a humiliating retreat from Euro 2016 with a last-16 exit to Iceland in France.

So what will the new manager take away from Slovakia after his first week among his new players and a crucial, albeit scrappy, win?

Allardyce must find England X-factor

Adam Lallana celebrates his winner with Gary Cahill
Adam Lallana made sure England began their World Cup qualifying campaign with a win

England struggled to create chances and turn possession into goals at Euro 2016, a flaw which cost them dearly in draws against Russia and Sunday's opponents Slovakia, who held them to a damaging goalless stalemate.

There is a predictability and pedestrian streak about England that Allardyce must find a way of curing - and any analysis of this must be couched in the context that this was his first game and a damaged team will not be rebuilt in a day.

England's lack of threat was emphasised by the fact it took 64 minutes to muster their first shot on target, and that was more of an over-hit pass from captain Wayne Rooney than an effort on goal.

Allardyce stated before the game he did not want England to have possession simply for the sake of it. This was a message that did not get across amid the tedium of the first hour.

The build-up was, on too many occasions, slow motion, good positions were wasted too often and, while Harry Kane's confidence has clearly taken a hit, this top-class striker cannot live in splendid isolation at international level. He, like most strikers, needs support and service.

Slovakia stood firm against England in Euro 2016 and they looked like doing it again here until Lallana's persistence and willingness to try a shot paid off in those last seconds.

In future, preferably swiftly and during the course of this qualifying campaign, Allardyce must uncover an X-factor to ensure frustrating nights like this are eradicated.

England have attempted 49 shots, including blocks, in their past two matches against Slovakia and scored only once, in the dying moments of the second game.

Tottenham trio on England's last-minute win

Dele Alli provided drive and danger when he came on, but the mind also wandered to what precocious Manchester United teenager Marcus Rashford might have offered.

True, Rashford has not had an overload of first-team football at Old Trafford this season but he has looked at ease with England and has pace, a fearless attitude and an eye for goal. Food for thought for Allardyce?

Everton's Ross Barkley, for now, is an outsider but is also a maverick talent that could be of use.

He was not given any game time by Roy Hodgson at Euro 2016 and was excluded from Allardyce's first squad - perhaps paying the price because his tactical discipline is still a work in progress.

Allardyce's work has barely started but this was a performance that will have told him England need to find more unpredictability and threat to avoid being thwarted by the sort of organisation and resilience Slovakia showed here in Trnava.

Big Sam must transfer confidence

Sam Allardyce
Sam Allardyce was greeted warmly by the 2,000-plus travelling England fans

Allardyce has made no secret of the fact managing England would be the pinnacle of his career - so to see him savour this victory was to witness one of the game's most enduring figures fulfilling the first part of a dream.

It was also the first chance for him to get acquainted with the task in hand and see at close quarters what he must do to cast off the shadows hanging over this England team after their harrowing experiences in France.

Allardyce has exuded confidence and comfort in his new footballing skin here in Slovakia. He has been relaxed, humorous, but also serious about the main business. This is a task he is relishing and is not daunted by - a tough evening will not alter that.

The 61-year-old must now transmit some of his own iron-clad confidence and self-belief to his new players who still, understandably perhaps, looked cautious, tentative and too risk averse to let their football flow.

Allardyce is determined to break down the psychological barrier that has blocked England for so long and he will go beyond tricks such as bringing in comedians Bradley Walsh and Paddy McGuinness to give the squad a few laughs.

The most confident, self-assured man around England's camp is currently the manager. The quicker he can transfer that to those under his command, the quicker the Allardyce show will really hit the road.

Take control of Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney
Wayne Rooney moved onto 116 caps for England - the most of any male outfield player

Allardyce is a man and manager who revels in the image of someone who is in charge, who calls the shots.

Yet his post-match comments about captain Wayne Rooney were almost deferential to the 30-year-old, who plans to retire from international football after the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The hint before the game was the experiment of using Rooney as a midfielder, as Hodgson did at Euro 2016, was over and he would be operating in more attacking positions.

But Rooney, who became England's most capped outfield player ahead of David Beckham as he won his 116th cap, played in a deep-lying central midfield role in a 4-1-4-1 formation from the start, spraying passes around with mixed fortunes. He was involved, but mainly on the margins.

It was only when Alli came on that England had threat from a position behind the striker. Rooney's role was something of a movable feast as the game went on and it was surprising to hear Allardyce more or less admit he was powerless to control this free hand.

He insisted it was "not for me to say where Wayne Rooney will play" and added: "Wayne played wherever he wanted to. I can't stop Wayne playing there.

"I think that he holds a lot more experience at international football than me as an international manager. Using his experience with a team, playing as a team member, it's not for me to say where he is going to play."

Except it is.

Rooney may be able to decide where he plays in an exhibition match but the idea he can simply do what he wants is not sustainable against opposition of the highest international quality.

His position in the England team is a constant narrative these days but Allardyce has firmly backed him by confirming him as captain.

He remains a very good footballer but not necessarily as a free spirit wandering around as some sort of player without portfolio, as the manager seemed to suggest.

Alli's cameo complicated matters and Allardyce, over time perhaps, will surely have to work out precisely where Rooney can and cannot be utilised by England.

Allardyce needs time and patience

Allardyce is not England manager because everything is well in their world. He is there because they were once again brutally exposed at a major tournament.

For all the talk of a new era and Allardyce's own buoyant and confident approach, criticism of "same old England" was premature and unfair on the new manager.

He picked a team to get a result in Slovakia. It was a solid, unspectacular line-up set up in a manner designed to avoid the sort of calamity that befell England against Iceland in Nice.

Allardyce will need time and patience to put his own stamp on the team. To suggest it would happen immediately is the stuff of fantasy but he will embrace the touch of luck that brought that 95th-minute winner.

England were badly wounded and in need of repair after Euro 2016. Allardyce will be convinced he can oversee that process but even his detractors will admit it is a job that will need time.

And a win, any sort of win, was just how he will have wanted to begin the task.


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