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Raheem Sterling irresistible but England’s fragile defence gives Gareth Southgate concern – John Cross

Raheem Sterling irresistible but England's fragile defence gives Gareth Southgate concern - John Cross


Gareth Southgate was right again.

It really has become too easy for England to qualify for major tournaments.

And no wonder when you have Raheem Sterling in this sort of form.

It was just crazy, embarrassing and utterly brilliant as Sterling tore Kosovo apart and only some sloppy England defending stopped it being more one-sided.

The concern for England will be the way they conceded three goals, all from silly mistakes and yet it also made for a compelling and exciting madcap game of end-to-end football.

Raheem Sterling was magnificent for the Three Lions

They switched off in the second half, became complacent and that will annoy Southgate as well as taking some of the gloss off an otherwise devastating attacking display.

Sterling was simply unstoppable, the sort of performance that people will look back upon in years to come as proof of his quality and class as he surely goes on to claim legendary status.

Manchester City star Sterling scored, provided three assists, was far too good for Kosovo to handle and he is now undeniably world class, up there with the best going into Euro 2020.

But what is really appetising is the support act of Harry Kane and Jadon Sancho who were both also on target and, as Southgate enjoys another cake walk to the Euros, the England boss will know he has a strike force to make the rest of the world sit up and take notice.

Raheem Sterling irresistible but England's fragile defence gives Gareth Southgate concern - John Cross
Kosovo couldn’t get to grips with the Manchester City man

Southgate was even able to take Marcus Rashford out of the four goal thrashing of Bulgaria on Saturday, replace him with Sancho and England looked even better. Their strength in depth is frightening.

No-one should forget it was Kosovo but this was a team we were all building up as dark horses, on a 15 game unbeaten run and they did embarrass England on a few occasions – and that is a worry.

Raheem Sterling irresistible but England's fragile defence gives Gareth Southgate concern - John Cross
There was cause for worry for the England boss

This was the first time England conceded three goals at home since February 2012, when they were beaten 3-2 by Holland under Stuart Pearce as caretaker boss.

It is all very good when you can outscore the opposition as easily as this with Sterling in such brilliant form. But the opposition will be a lot tougher next summer.

England should have learned from an early lesson as they actually went behind after just 35 seconds.

Michael Keane broke Sunday League rules, played the ball across his own penalty box, Vedat Muriqui intercepted the ball and then Valon Berisha smashed it past England keeper Jordan Pickford.

Raheem Sterling irresistible but England's fragile defence gives Gareth Southgate concern - John Cross
A bad night for Michael Keane in defence

But another great quality of this England team under Southgate is whenever a player makes a mistake, he does his level best to make amends. That is the mark of team spirit and determination.

Ross Barkley floated over an eighth minute corner, it was Keane rose above the Kosovo defence and flick it on for Sterling who, as the shortest player on the pitch, rose above everyone else and headed home from point blank range. Is there nothing he can’t do?

Sterling then just went into overdrive.

His performance was just breathtaking. He turned provider after 19 minutes, turning on the afterburners to race away from the defence before laying it off to Kane who smashed home into the bottom corner.

Raheem Sterling irresistible but England's fragile defence gives Gareth Southgate concern - John Cross
Harry Kane celebrates his goal

Forget fairytales and giant killings. They don’t happen when you have Sterling and Kane bearing down on you.

Then Sancho got in on the act. Sancho made a brilliant run down the right and his low cross was turned into his own net by Mergim Vojvoda after 38 minutes.

Then twice within three minutes Sterling set up Sancho with close range finishes and perfect passes as England went in 5-1 up at half time. Sancho’s double has now surely put him ahead of Rashford in the pecking order.

But the lead lulled England into a false sense of security. Declan Rice’s sloppy pass let in Kosovo and Berisha raced clear to score his second after 49 minutes.

Raheem Sterling irresistible but England's fragile defence gives Gareth Southgate concern - John Cross
Rice and Maguire both had sloppy moments themselves

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Six minutes later, Harry Maguire’s clumsy challenge brought down Vedat Muriqi who then duly converted from the penalty spot.

England should have had a sixth after 65 minutes but you had something you don’t see very often: Kane saw his penalty saved.

Barkley was brought down by Amir Rrahmani, Kane was denied by the keeper and probably wishes he had let Sancho take it for his hat trick.



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