England battle past spirited Kosovo in extraordinary eight-goal thriller
European Qualifiers – St Mary’s Stadium – England 5 (R. Sterling 8', H. Kane 19', M. Vojvoda 38', (O.G.), J. Sancho 44', 45') Kosovo 3 (V. Berisha 1', 49', V. Muriqi 55' pen)
Raheem Sterling was in sparkling form as England beat Kosovo 5-3 to maintain their 100 per cent record following a thrilling Euro 2020 qualifier at St Mary's.
A dreadful error by Michael Keane after just 34 seconds saw the visitors claim a shock lead via Valon Berisha, before Sterling levelled with his eighth goal in as many international outings seven minutes later.
The Manchester City man then turned provider as he set up Harry Kane and laid on two for Jadon Sancho to notch his first senior international goals. Kosovo's Mergim Vojvoda also put through his own net as the Three Lions ran riot to make it a five-star first half.
However, the visitors showed great spirit in the second period and further highlighted concerns over England's defensive frailties as they pulled a couple of goals back through Berisha and a Vedat Muriqi penalty.
Gareth Southgate will have been frustrated by the lapses at the back, but in truth, his side should have added to their margin of victory with Kane seeing a penalty saved and Sterling hitting the post.
The result means England are now three points clear of second-placed Czech Republic at the top of Group A as Bernard Challandes' Dardanians drop to third after seeing their 15-match unbeaten run come to an emphatic end.
Southgate will hope to see his players continue their perfect form in the pool and confirm their qualification for next summer's tournament when they visit the Czechs on October 11.
First-half attacking masterclass won't completely mask some defensive question marks. Much was made of Kosovo's rise to prominence since becoming a UEFA and FIFA member in 2016 and the fact they had the longest unbeaten run in Europe coming into this contest - but England simply tore them to shreds in a supreme first-half showing. There was an air of naivety about the way the visitors afforded Sterling and co so much space to counter at pace, but there's no denying the home side's attack is one of the best around at the moment. Southgate is well aware of how good his team can be going forward and the front men were the architects of a success that ensures the Three Lions made it a decade of qualifiers unbeaten (43 matches). However, there will be some question marks about the defence and overall concentration as three avoidable lapses allowed Kosovo to make the score more respectable.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Raheem Sterling (England). A headed goal and a trio of assists for the Man City man, who once again underlined how important he has become to his country's attack.
KOSOVO: Muric 8, Vojvoda 5, Rrahmani 5, Aliti 6, Hadergjonaj 6, Voca 6, Halimi 6, Muslija 6, Celina 6, Berisha 8, Muriqi 7. Subs: Paqarada 6, Rashkaj 6, Hasani n/a.
1' - GOAL! England 0-1 Kosovo. It's a dream start for Kosovo! Keane makes an awful error at the back, allowing Vedat Muriqi to tee up Valon Berisha for a clinical finish.
8' - GOAL! England 1-1 Kosovo. Great response from England. Keane makes amends as he rises brilliantly to nod a right-wing corner back into the mix for Sterling to head home.
19' - GOAL! England 2-1 Kosovo. England lead! Sterling turns on the centre circle and drives at the Kosovo defence before feeding Kane, who drills a shot through the keeper's legs.
38' - GOAL! England 3-1 Kosovo. It's three. Sancho drives to the right byline and fizzes in a low cross that Mergim Vojvoda puts past his own keeper.
44' - GOAL! England 4-1 Kosovo. England are running riot. Sterling once again leads the charge on the break before rolling it into space for Sancho to fire in the fourth.
45+1' - GOAL! England 5-1 Kosovo. It's five-star England. Once again Sterling is given too much space. He races towards the keeper before laying it across for Sancho to tap home.
49' - GOAL! England 5-2 Kosovo. The visitors pull one back. Berisha times his run brilliantly and shows some composed touches before curving a shot into the corner to net his second of the night.
55' - GOAL! England 5-3 Kosovo. Muriqi steps up and just about beats Pickford with a penalty into the right corner he is facing. The spot kick was awarded after Maguire caught the forward as he tried to make a clearance.
Berisha's opening goal was the first goal scored inside the first minute of an England match since May 2003, when Gareth Southgate scored against South Africa.
Sterling has scored eight goals in his last eight appearances for England, with five of those coming in home games.
England conceded three goals in a home game for the first time since February 2012, when a side led by Stuart Pearce were beaten 3-2 by Holland at Wembley.
England have scored five goals in three different matches in 2019 – the first time they’ve done so that many times in a calendar year since 1960 (also three games).