England 5-3 Kosovo
England stretched their lead at the top of Euro 2020 qualification Group A with a thrilling 5-3 win against Kosovo at St Mary’s.
Gareth Southgate made three changes to the side that beat Bulgaria 4-0 at Wembley on Saturday as full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ben Chilwell came in for Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose, while Jadon Sancho replaced Marcus Rashford in the front three.
Kosovo also made two changes to the side which pulled off a historic win against the Czech Republic on Saturday with Florent Muslija and Valon Berisha both starting.
It was the visitors who stunned the Southampton natives inside 34 seconds when Michael Keane put a miss-placed pass into the path of Vedat Mariqi. He then played in Berisha who coolly clipped the ball past the advancing Jordan Pickford from just inside the area.
England recovered and were level in the eighth minute when Keane made amends for his error as he powered a header back into the middle of the box from a Ross Barkley corner and Raheem Sterling headed in from close range.
The hosts continued to dominate and, with Kosovo always looking to throw men forwards, they were leaving gaps at the back.
England capitalised when they took the lead on 19 minutes as Sterling surged to the edge of the Kosovo area and played in Kane, who shifted the ball on to his left foot and fired an angled drive through the legs of goalkeeper Arijanet Muric.
Kosovo had a couple of forays forward without really threatening as they were again caught out at the back on 38 minutes.
Alexander-Arnold and Fidan Aliti had a coming together down on the right touchline and the Kosovan man went to ground. But with no free-kick given, Harry Maguire picked out the run of Sancho and his low cross from the right was inadvertently put into his own net by Mergim Vojvoda.
It was 4-1 on 44 minutes when Sterling was again given time and space to counter-attack before finding the run of Sancho inside the area and the Borussia Dortmund starlet drilled in his first England goal.
There was still time for Sancho to grab his second and England’s fifth in first half stoppage time when he was the beneficiary of more impressive Sterling build-up play who left him with a simple tap-in.
England looked hungry for more goals after the break and Alexander-Arnold tested Muric with a fierce drive inside the area which the keeper did well to push away on 48 minutes.
However, it was Kosovo who got the next goal a minute later when Declan Rice gave possession away to Muriqi and he again picked out Berisha who finished well for his second of the game.
It was game-on by the 55th minute when Maguire’s clumsy challenge on Muriqi gifted the Kosovans a penalty and the big forward’s spot-kick had just enough power to beat Pickford who got a hand to the ball.
England had a great chance to get their sixth of the night on 65 minutes when Barkley was bundled over Amir Rrahmani inside the area and won a penalty.
However, with Kosovan players encroaching and delaying Kane from taking his spot-kick, the Three Lions’ skipper saw his effort well saved by Muric at full stretch down towards his right-hand corner.
England should have put the game to bed on 73 minutes when Kane picked up possession 30 yards from goal and then picked out the run of Sterling, who looked certain to score only for Muric to get a slight touch to divert his shot against the post.
Sterling had another opportunity two minutes later but watched as his effort deflected agonisingly wide off a defender.
It was end-to-end in the closing stages as England spent the majority of time playing on the break with Kosovo committing more men forwards in the hope of grabbing a fourth to set-up a nervous finale.
Rashford was sent clear by fellow substitute Mason Mount on 86 minutes, but Muric pulled off a fine save. Sterling somehow dinked the rebound over the crossbar from close range but was saved by an offside flag.
Kosovo raced to the other end of the pitch and almost scored but Bersant Celina was unfortunate as his curling right-foot effort from inside the area dropped the wrong side of the far post.
However, England comfortably held on throughout five minutes of stoppage time to maintain their 100 per cent start to the group with four wins from four and they sit three points clear of second-placed Czech Republic with a game in hand.