Harry Kane fired England to next summer’s World Cup finals in Russia, but his last-gasp winner cannot paper over the cracks after manager Gareth Southgate’s men limped to victory against limited Slovenia.
Dull, flat and uneventful all aptly describe a Group F encounter that may secure World Cup qualification, but leaves just as many questions as answers – an all too common theme in recent matches.
So underwhelming was this encounter that fans seemed more excited about paper planes landing on the pitch, with England offering precious little to shout about until captain Kane directed home to secure a stodgywin in stoppage-time.
The Three Lions may be able to book their flights for Russia, but this listless display against a side ranked 55th in the world only underlines the work that needs to be done to stop next summer ending up like the last World Cup or Euro 2016.
After a dreadful opening period, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Kane had efforts in quick succession during a brief flash of second-half excitement – but there were also moments when Slovenia threatened to inflict a first qualifying defeat since October 2009.
Such a ponderous performance tested fans’ patience, but those that waited around finally had a moment to enjoy in stoppage-time as Kane beat Slovenia goalkeeper Jan Oblak from a fine Walker cross.
While this did not feel like a particularly positive occasion, Southgate deserves credit for taking the reins in difficult circumstances following Sam Allardyce’s exit and steering England to the World Cup with a game to spare.
The England boss can now use Sunday’s trip to Lithuania as a chance to experiment, a match for which Dele Alli is available having served a one-match ban against Slovenia.
Sterling came in for Alli and quickly went about stretching the Slovenia defence, whose close attention John Stones claimed should have brought an early penalty.
Possession failed to translate into clear-cut chances, though, and England’s play soon deteriorated.
Slovakia took an early lead at Wembley last month when Rashford made a mistake in his own third and this time it was Sterling whose sloppiness put his side under pressure.
Josip Ilicic ended up being threaded through, with England goalkeeper Joe Hart appearing to catch him when sweeping up.
No penalty was given and there was another sigh of relief when Roman Bezjak failed to connect with a cross against a struggling England side, whose captain Kane took aim from distance with a hopeful attempt.
Oblak, Atletico Madrid’s superb goalkeeper, dealt with that comfortably and impressively swatted away Jordan Henderson’s shot as Slovenia’s goal came under real threat for the first time.
Play had long since stopped when Kane headed home a corner, with Oblak scampering across to tip wide Rashford’s free-kick before the Manchester United attacker’s corner was flicked wide at the near post by Gary Cahill.
Unfortunately, the second half did not see an injection of excitement and urgency and Slovenia had the first attempt through Bojan Jokic.
The visitors were not pulling up any trees, but nor were the hosts offering any serious threat, with England taking until the 63rd minute to muster a serious second-half attempt.
Sterling bore down on goal as the hosts caught out Slovenia’s backline and played in Rashford to get a clipped attempt away that was too weak and was hacked away by Rajko Rotman.
A crucial, if unorthodox, block from captain Bostjan Cesar prevented Sterling from slotting home in the 65th minute, with Kane flashing a first-time strike just as fans began to get excited about something aside from aiming to reach the pitch with paper planes.
Late on Hart, looking in discomfort, burst off his line to throw himself in front of Tim Matavz. It was a brave save, and pivotal as Walker then cut out Oblak’s throw at the other end and crossed for Kane to score.
England: Hart, Walker, Stones, Cahill, Bertrand, Henderson, Dier, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Lingard 63), Sterling (Keane 85), Kane, Rashford. Unused substitutes: Butland, Smalling, Trippier, Maguire, Cresswell, Defoe, Livermore, Sturridge, Winks, Pickford.
Slovenia: Oblak, Struna, Mevlja, Cesar, Jokic, Rotman (Matavz 79), Ilicic, Krhin, Bezjak (Repas 72), Sporar (Birsa 55), Verbic. Unused substitutes: Belec, Koprivec, Skubic, Viler, Sirok, Kurtic, Mlinar, Bohar, Vetrih.
Referee: Felix Zwayer (Germany).