LONDON (Reuters) - Victory over Slovakia on Monday will put England on the brink of qualifying for next year’s World Cup finals but fans at Wembley will be demanding more than just three points.
While England have remained in control of Group F since beating Slovakia 1-0 away with a last-gasp goal, they have hardly provided much excitement.
Friday’s 4-0 victory in Malta included one goal in the 85th minute and two in stoppage time -- disguising what had been a turgid display against a side ranked 190th in the world by FIFA.
Former captain Terry Butcher said the current England team lacked “something special” after the Malta victory.
While manager Gareth Southgate defended the display against Malta, and will prioritise three points on Monday over style, he knows the fans want evidence his side can make an impression in Russia next year after a series of flops in major tournaments.
“We have some exciting players and we want to show that,” Southgate said ahead of Monday’s game against second-placed Slovakia, who are two points behind England.
“We have a responsibility to get the Wembley crowd on their feet but, equally, everywhere we go in the world the home crowd give the team a lift. It will be great if we can get the level of support that stadium (Wembley) can bring.”
That will largely depend on whether his team of Premier League regulars commanding vast transfer fees, can do a better job at breaking down Slovakia than they did against Malta until a late flurry of goals put some gloss on the scoreline.
England are unbeaten in their last 36 qualifiers for major tournaments and have won their last 12.
Slovakia, however, are their closest challengers having won five qualifiers in a row after a bad start to the campaign.
“We are playing good opposition so we have to make sure we are tactically prepared, which we will be, but also have belief in the team we have got,” Southgate said.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris