The bottom line, taking the positive view, is that England won again at the top of Group A and that means they will pass the 10-year mark since the last time they lost a qualifying match, against Ukraine in October 2009. Jadon Sancho celebrated his first international goals, Raheem Sterling maintained his sparkling form and Harry Kane enhanced his scoring statistics again. Kane is now level with Bryan Robson on the list of all-time England scorers, with 26 goals, though he passed up the chance to catch David Platt in 12th position when his second-half penalty was saved – and that in itself was a measure of how England produced the unexpected at times.
Read more It must have been lots of fun for the Southampton crowd but Southgate cannot have been encouraged by the way Kosovo scored twice in the second half without reply, especially when England had also suffered the ignominy of going behind only 34 seconds into the match – a goal that will be remembered as a personal ordeal for Michael Keane.
It was one of the quickest goals ever scored against England and for Keane the difficult truth was that it was not his first calamity in this qualifying programme. The same player had also been badly at fault when Montenegro opened the scoring against England in March and perhaps the best that could be said was that, then like now, he did at least partially make up for it.
Rating Englands players in ridiculous 5-3 win
Keane headed in the equaliser in Podgorica, leading ultimately to a 5-1 victory, and this time his aerial threat led to Sterling levelling the score only six minutes after the shock of Valon Berishas opener. Sterling was inside the six-yard area and Keanes far-post header from a corner left the Manchester City player with the opportunity to nod in a goal that drastically changed the complexion of the evening.
Yet while England’s march towards Euro 2020 continued with a fourth win from as many qualifiers, the pulsating 5-3 win against Kosovo left Southgate with plenty to ponder.
Internationals: England and France move a step closer to Euro 2020 | Official Site
That was Sterlings eighth goal in as many appearances for his country – could it really be true he had gone three years without scoring earlier in his international career? – though his most exceptional work came later in the first half when a brilliantly disguised turn in the centre circle led directly to Kane scoring. As Sterling drove through the middle, Kane peeled off to the left. Englands captain took the shot on his left foot and Ari Muric, Kosovos goalkeeper, let the ball run beneath his body.
Southgate was entitled to be impressed by the determination of his players to make up for what had happened in the opening exchanges. Another team might have lost confidence because it was, to say the least, an extraordinary moment: Englands players passing the ball between themselves in their own half and then Keane, trying to find Harry Maguire, presenting it straight to Vedat Muriqi, Kosovos lead striker, just outside the penalty area. Berisha turned his shot past the oncoming Jordan Pickford and, briefly, it felt like England might be in for an unpleasant evening.
Very soon, though, the boisterous corner of Kosovo supporters found out how difficult it can be against elite opponents. Sterling, in particular, was relentless in his desire to get behind the opposition and Kosovos increasing desperation could probably be summed up by Englands third goal. Sancho drove in a low cross from the right. Muric pulled his foot away when he had the chance to block it and the ball flew in off Mergim Vojvoda for an own goal.
Sanchos first goal was a right-foot finish from Sterlings perfectly weighted pass and the same two players combined again to make it 5-1 in first-half added time. Sterlings pass left Sancho with the simplest of chances, barely three yards out with the goalkeeper stranded, and England had scored three times in a six-minute blitz.
Read more Again, however, they were guilty of a strange lack of focus at the start of the next half. This time it was Declan Rice with the loose pass. Muriqis cross picked out Berisha and Englands defence were badly out of position as he cut inside Jordan Henderson to beat Pickford with a splendid, rising shot.
This is a slightly false rating given their ability but the fact they pulled England back from 5-1 to 5-3 in the second half and created an air of anxiety and expectation among the fans at either end of St Marys says everything about the flaws in Southgates side.
Maybe England were guilty of complacency. Whatever it was, they continued to defend obligingly and next it was Maguires turn to wave an apologetic hand. He had not properly managed to clear a cross and, trying to make up his mistake, tripped Muriqi. It was a clear penalty and Muriqi scored to Pickfords left.
The next penalty decision was less obvious, for an alleged foul on Ross Barkley, but Muric blocked Kanes effort and perhaps the only surprise was there were no more goals in the final 35 minutes.
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Raheem Sterling made three goals and scored for England, Jadon Sancho bagged two – but it was Kosovo forward Valon Berisha who was your man of the match in the 5-3 duel in Southampton.
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Berisha was handed a gift by Michael Keane to score after 34 seconds and curled in a fine second after the break too. You gave him an average rating of 7.54 to put him ahead of Sancho (7.32) and Sterling (7.21).