England manager Gareth Southgate insists his side must improve on “obvious” defensive errors after being bailed out by another devastating attacking display in a thrilling 5-3 win over Kosovo in Southampton.
Jadon Sancho scored his first international goals and Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling were also on target as Southgate’s men took their tally to 19 goals in four Euro 2020 qualifiers.
However, the good work of the front three was nearly undone by mistakes from centre-backs Michael Keane and Harry Maguire, as England conceded three goals at home in a qualifier for the first time in 12 years.
“A bizarre game,” said Southgate. “There were obvious poor errors for goals but I’m really pleased with the composure we showed.
“We had devastating attacking play throughout and we used the ball well.
“The outstanding parts of our play were obvious. The errors were obvious.”
Kosovo had been on a 15-game unbeaten run stretching back two years and were given the start to spark dreams of a monumental shock for a nation only given FIFA membership three years ago.
Just 35 seconds in, a misplaced pass by Keane allowed Valon Berisha to fire past Jordan Pickford and give the visitors the lead.
England bounced back in emphatic fashion. It was another demonstration of the pace and firepower that will make the Three Lions among the favourites for Euro 2020 once the formality of mathematically securing their place at next summer’s showpiece is out of the way.
The World Cup semi-finalists moved three points clear at the top of Group A ahead of the Czech Republic, who won, 3-0, in Montenegro. Kosovo dropped to third, four points behind. England have a game in hand on all four sides below them.
Sterling was in scintillating form, but the Manchester City winger scored his sixth goal in his last six international caps was in unusual fashion, with a towering header from close range.
Sterling then turned provider with a dangerous dart into the Kosovar half before teeing up Kane to drill low past Aro Muric.
Sancho’s low cross was then turned into his own net by Mergim Vojvoda and the Standard Liege right-back was further embarrassed as England struck twice more before half-time.
Sterling was too quick for the Kosovo defence as he cut in from the left before playing a perfectly weighted pass for Sancho to fire in at the near post for his first goal for his country.
A minute later, the 19-year-old had a second, again thanks to unselfish play from Sterling after leaving Vojvoda in his wake.
“I’m delighted to score my first goal for England,” said Sancho.
“It was a crazy game. Five goals and I’m just happy to get two of them.”
Yet, for all England’s thrilling attacking play, there were concerns for Southgate over their defending as the hosts let Kosovo back into the game early in the second-half.
Berisha produced a second cool finish after Keane was caught under a cross from the right.
Maguire, the world’s most expensive defender after an £80 million move from Leicester to Manchester United last month, then clumsily brought down Vedat Muriqi inside the area.
Muriqi dismissed Berisha’s plea to take the spot-kick with the chance to complete a famous hat-trick and the Fenerbahce striker was relieved as Pickford just did not get a strong enough hand to save his penalty.
At the other end, Manchester City goalkeeper Muric produced some heroics as he saved Kane’s powerful penalty and only the post denied Sterling a sixth, but England had already done enough to move another step closer to Euro 2020.