Jack Grealish came off the bench to score his first goal for England and complete a 5-0 rout of Andorra on Saturday which edged his side a step closer to sealing their place in next year’s World Cup finals.
Manchester City’s Grealish, who came on for his 16th cap in the 73rd minute, produced a trademark dribble and finish to round off a satisfactory night for England manager Gareth Southgate who rested most of his big guns.
Ben Chilwell began the scoring in Andorra’s tiny national stadium, also with his first England goal, and Bukayo Saka made it 2-0 shortly before the interval.
AS Roma’s Tammy Abraham, given a first start for four years, made it 3-0 with a tap-in and James Ward-Prowse then had a 79th-minute penalty saved before converting the rebound.
But the best was saved for last as Grealish dribbled around a tiring Andorra defence before slotting in a low shot.
“It has been a long time coming and it’s about time that I scored because everyone has been saying it to me,” Grealish said. “I’m just delighted that I’ve got off the mark.
“In the back of my mind there has been that feeling that I’ve just wanted to score, just to get off the mark. I’ve done that tonight, I’m delighted and it’s a night I won’t forget.”
In another mismatch, similar to England’s 4-0 win at Wembley last month, Andorra offered hard graft and defended robustly but were no match for Southgate’s much-changed side who eased to their sixth win from seven matches in the group.
England now have 19 points, four more than Albania, who won in Hungary, and five more than Poland. Two wins from their last three games, at home to Hungary and Albania and away to San Marino, will book their place in Qatar.
It was a night for England’s peripheral players to make a mark and several will be happy with their night’s work.
Midfielder Phil Foden, playing in a deeper role, was the architect of much of England’s best work while Jadon Sancho also impressed after a slow start to his Manchester United career.
It was Foden’s ball which picked out Sancho in the 17th minute and the Manchester United player then teed up Chilwell to slot past Andorra’s keeper Josep Gomes.
The goal was initially ruled out for offside but with all eyes on referee Kateryna Monzul, the first female official to take charge of a senior England international, she overturned the decision after a VAR check.
England had to wait until nearly halftime to double their lead with Foden picking out Saka to finish clinically.
After a messy start to the second half, England got back into their rhythm and Sancho delivered a cross from the left which an unmarked Abraham prodded in.
There was more work for Monzul when Chus Rubio sent Grealish tumbling in the box, the Ukrainian official pointing to the spot. Gomes made a great save but Ward-Prowse made no mistake when the ball popped back out.
Grealish put the icing on the cake of a lively cameo when he was picked out by a long throw out by England keeper Sam Johnstone before bamboozling Andorra’s defence and firing a low shot through a crowd.