Sancho and Sterling show Euro 2020 prospects but England must learn from Kosovo thriller

Well at least there was some jeopardy last night.

Gareth Southgate’s pre-match observation that European Championship qualifying has grown too easy for the big fish duly played out as they flooded the net of a fourth opponent in four games but hats off to Kosovo for making a game of it, with a little help from England.

Group A has clearly become so straightforward for England that in and amongst the blizzard of goals they devised a handicap scheme for themselves to make a contest of it. Or at least that is the way it looked at times.

It was party time on the south coast with defence optional.

The upshot was a riot of attacking football and rearguard calamities that made for a frenetic, faintly lunatic, night and the fans at St Mary’s lapped it up.

The last – and only other – time England played at St Mary’s 17 years ago was a dreadful 2-2 draw with Macedonia in a Euro 2004 qualifier. 

That game saw Steven Gerrard carried off, Alan Smith sent off and David Seaman’s England career come to an abrupt end after allowing Artim Sakiri to score direct from a corner.

This was much more fun.

Taking England away from Wembley creates a different, more intimate flavour. Southampton, once home to Jane Austen, delivered pride and a bit of prejudice too.

The partisan support of the excitable Kosovo fans added hugely to the occasion. Disappointed to miss out on Wembley for their first match against England, a smaller arena offered them a better chance to make their voices heard. They didn’t miss the opportunity. 

The yellow and blue pen duly exploded when Michael Keane gifted Kosovo the opening goal inside a minute which brought back memories of San Marino’s flying start in 1993.

At that point it appeared that Southgate had tempted fate with his comments but the bearded sage of English football is rarely wrong for long.

What followed was a fluid and entertaining demonstration of England’s evolution – and their attacking potency.  

Raheem Sterling, in particular, tore the paper-tissue Kosovan defence apart and Jadon Sancho was the prime beneficiary.

For Sancho it must have felt like he had been granted the freedom of Southampton compared to the Bundesliga as the Kosovans were overran.

‘Are you Scotland in disguise?’ came the cruel chants when England’s fourth goal went in and it increased in volume with No 5.

Five goals before half time? You could have forgiven the Kosovans for a damage limitation exercise after the break but they came to play and play they did.

They kept on coming at England and their two rapid-fire goals after the interval sent the blue and yellow pen crackers.

This is a nation born out of adversity and in adversity they showed their best side. 

True, England looked capable of ripping them to pieces at any given moment but with the ball they held a threat and weren’t afraid to use it.

It was a lesson to England that for all their superiority in this group they should not get ahead of themselves. 

They will qualify, yes, but a side learns more with a little humility and they will need all the knowledge they can lay their hands on when Euro 2020 gets real next summer.

Their finals opponents will be genuinely fearful of what England offer up front now but they will be making careful notes about how vulnerable Kosovo made them look at times in defence last night.

England are a good side but not yet the complete one.