TRNAVA, Slovakia — Until Adam Lallana pounced in the fifth minute of stoppage time, Sam Allardyce was about to become the first England manager in 34 years to fail to win his opening game.
Instead, Lallana’s late goal against Slovakia showed Allardyce he just might gain the fortuitous breaks his predecessors haven’t enjoyed.
And the former Bolton, Sunderland and West Ham manager wondered what role a newly-obtained lucky penny had to play in the winning start to World Cup qualifying.
“A father and his son in a wheelchair came to the hotel this morning and asked if it was OK to have a picture,” Allardyce said after Sunday’s 1-0 win in Trnava. “When we finished, he said: ‘Let me give you a lucky coin.’ Here it is. I had it with me in my pocket. We won, so it’ll stay with me.
“I’m not really superstitious but I’m going to keep it. It’s got us a last-minute winner. I wonder how far it will take us.”
The first target is just making it to the finals in Russia in 2018. Then Allardyce will need his players to provide more of a threat than they did against Slovakia. It was a turgid England performance reminiscent of Roy Hodgson’s final game in charge — the loss to Iceland in the round of 16 at the European Championship in June.
Even after gaining a man-advantage from the 57th minute, when Martin Skrtel received a second yellow card for another foul on Harry Kane, the visitors struggled to break through Slovakia’s resistance in their first game in Group F.
Sloppy goalkeeping helped Lallana score his first England goal in his 27th international after his shot went through Matus Kozacik’s legs.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Lallana said. “I put pressure on myself to score goals and I knew it was only a matter of time.”
“It was pretty nerve-wracking at the end because the 10-man scenario means you must win,” a giddy Allardyce said in his post-match television interview, struggling to begin his answer while still laughing at his good fortune.
“It was difficult to break them down … but we got what we deserved.”
It took until the 65th minute for England to hit the target for the first time. Wayne Rooney hit a low shot straight at Kozacik as the captain became England’s most capped outfield player, surpassing the record he held with David Beckham, by making a 116th appearance.
“We didn’t panic, I think that’s the main thing,” the 30-year-old Rooney said. “We stuck to our plan, we kept our shape and tried to penetrate them in the right areas but also without giving them too many chances.”
MALTA 1, SCOTLAND 5
Robert Snodgrass gave Scotland the early edge over neighbor England in Group F with a hat trick on the Mediterranean island as the team chases its first tournament appearance since the 1998 World Cup. Two Malta players — Jonathan Caruana and Luke Gambin — were also sent off in the second half for fouling Snodgrass.
Scotland only got going in the second half, after Alfred Effiong’s header had canceled out Snodgrass’ opener. Surprise starter Chris Martin restored Scotland’s lead in the 53rd minute and Snodgrass was on target again on the hour from the penalty spot after being clipped by Caruana. Snodgrass completed his treble after substitute Steven Fletcher netted, while Gambin saw red in stoppage time.
LITHUANIA 2, SLOVENIA 2
Slovenia staged a late fightback to rescue a point, with Bostjan Cesar heading in the equalizer in the third minute of stoppage time. Rene Krhin started the comeback in the final 15 minutes after Fedor Cernych and Vykintas Slivka gave Lithuania a 2-0 half-time lead.