England Faces Slovenia Next After Cruising Past Malta, 2-0

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England's Wayne Rooney in action with Malta's Michael Mifsud in Saturday's World Cup qualifier. Carl Recine/Reuters

Gareth Southgate rose from his technical area and punched the darkening sky above London's Wembley Stadium as Dele Alli put England 2-0 ahead over Malta. His team had landed the knockout blow.

Southgate has matched his predecessor, Sam Allardyce: One game; one win, but that's where the similarities between the two men ends. This was Malta and a win was the least that was expected. Qualifying is not where England tends to struggle, with this being a 14th consecutive win in the pre-tournament stages.

But the audition has begun for Southgate.This 2-0 win was the first of four matches that the 46-year-old is certain to be at the helm. And the last time England faced Malta, a 2-1 victory back in 2000, the former Middlesbrough boss was on the pitch, at the heart of the defense. This time, alongside assistant Steve Holland, he would need to guide from the touchline.

Malta proved to be a typical opposition for England; a team happy to sit back, aiming to unnerve a team that has looked increasingly fragile for the past decade. This goes one of two ways for England: either the chilling memory of Iceland at Euro 2016 would arise or the well-oiled machine kicks into gear. Fortunately for Southgate, he was able to enjoy the latter.

Malta was not from afraid to try and play, but, when out of possession, the team was deep and compact, looking to frustrate the hosts. It was obvious from the off that this would not bode well for the visitors.

Wayne Rooney, deployed in the midfield by Southgate, was first to test Andrew Hogg, in goal for Malta, with a sweeping shot from the edge of the box. Hogg palmed to safety, something he struggled to do from then on.

Playing alongside Rooney in the midfield was Liverpool's Jordan Henderson. The pair saw plenty of the ball throughout the afternoon, with England camped inside the opposition half for virtually the entirety of the opening 45 minutes, enjoying 80 percent of possession.

Last weekend, Wembley hosted a match between Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts in an NFL fixture, which looked to have inspired Rooney and Henderson who acted like quarterbacks for the hosts.

It was like a battle between the two for who could unpick the Maltese back line. Midway through the first half, Henderson fed debutant Jesse Lingard with a long, searching pass, but the Manchester United winger scooped his effort over the bar.

Henderson may have found himself alone in the midfield a minute later, however, as Rooney was lucky not to see Swedish referee Stefan Johannesson pluck a red card from his pocket.

Rooney, desperate to win the ball back, threw himself into a 50-50 challenge with Andre Schembri. Captain on captain. The England man clipped the ball, but planted the bottom of his boot on Schembri's ankle. As Rooney chases Peter Shilton's 125 caps, his 117th almost ended in disaster.

England's greatest chances had come from searching passes, and just before the half-hour mark they had the breakthrough. Henderson, picking up the ball midway through the Malta half, looked up to see Liverpool team-mate Sturridge at the far post. A whipping cross picked out Sturridge, who directed his header back across goal, watching it nestle into the far post. Southgate rose from his seat and aimed his fist at the air for the first time of the night.

The goal settled England down, and the football began to flow more freely. Lingard came close again, heading an effort straight at Hogg. Gary Cahill reacted fastest to a free ball in the Malta penalty area but sliced his shot wide.

And then England got its second. Henderson was once again at the heart of the move, driving at Malta, playing a one-two with Sturridge and seeing his shot rebound back by Hogg. It was a poor attempt at a clearance, and Deli Alli pounced to poke into the net for his second England goal. Southgate, again, was out his seat, swinging at the night sky.

It wouldn't have been a challenging interval for the interim. More of the same, he would have requested.

But, with the game won, England looked comfortable for the entirety of the second half. Rooney tested Hogg with a free-kick that the goalkeeper tipped over after 53 minutes.

Large parts of the home crowd began shining the lights of their mobile phones in the sky and taking part in Mexican waves as the entertainment on the pitch reduced.

Theo Walcott came close to a third for England when Lingard slipped the Arsenal man in, but Hogg saved well. Alli came close again with five minutes to go as substitute Marcus Rashford crossed, only for the Tottenham midfielder to balloon over.

It is just three days until England faces Slovenia away in the third qualifying match for the 2018 World Cup. The manager's seat will feel even more comfortable now for Southgate.