England eased to a 2-0 win over Estonia at Wembley on Friday despite lacking a cutting edge at times in the absence of captain and leading scorer Wayne Rooney.
Rooney became the country’s top scorer against Switzerland last time out as England sealed their place at Euro 2016 and in his injury-enforced absence, Theo Walcott and Raheem Sterling stepped up to maintain their 100 per cent record in qualifying.
The England skipper, unavailable with an ankle problem, received a golden boot from previous record holder Bobby Charlton to commemorate his achievement prior to a first period that saw England unable to convert their dominance until Walcott opened the scoring on the stroke of half time.
Walcott – used out wide rather than up front as requested in the build-up – maintained his impressive form and bolstered hopes of featuring regularly at the Euros, with the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck both yet to make international returns following injuries.
Harry Kane was given his first England start as the focal point up front but the Tottenham man struggled to make an impact, as the wingers sealed the win.
Sterling collected a pass from substitute Jamie Vardy to make sure of the points as the visitors’ slim hopes of progression were all-but ended.
The hosts were on the front foot from the off, Walcott testing Mihkel Aksalu with a volley from the edge of the box before the lively Ross Barkley saw penalty appeals turned away after being clipped in the area.
Estonia stood firm amid heavy England pressure as Roy Hodgson’s men struggled to break down a resolute visiting defence – Adam Lallana’s strike deflected over the crossbar 26 minutes in.
Gary Cahill – captaining the side in Rooney’s absence – then headed Lallana’s cross wide before Ats Purje had Estonia’s first sight of goal as his shot was blocked by the skipper.
Estonia grew in confidence prior to the interval, keeping possession and building momentum, but Walcott ensured England a deserved lead with the final touch of the first half.
The Arsenal man stayed onside and collected Barkley’s precise pass before slotting the opener past Aksalu.
Kane failed to sort his feet out in time to divert Nathaniel Clyne’s cross towards goal early in the second half, the Tottenham man then unable to make the most of Aksalu’s parry from Lallana’s free-kick.
Barkley jinked past two defenders and shot wide before Hodgson introduced the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Vardy after the hour.
Their arrivals added a freshness and, when Vardy seized on a defensive error to play in Sterling, the Manchester City man made no mistake from close range.
Debutant Dele Alli made a cameo appearance off the bench in place of the impressive Barkley as England moved within one win of a perfect qualification campaign.
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