Joe Hart led West Ham United's band of internationals on Monday, helping England to the brink of qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals courtesy of a 2-1 win over Slovakia.
Hart’s 73rd appearance for his country looked like being an unhappy one when the visitors went 1-0 up inside three minutes, leaving the Three Lions’ World Cup hopes looking a tad tenuous.
The goalkeeper was beaten by a neat finish from Celta de Vigo midfielder Stanislav Lobotka, silencing Wembley and putting Slovakia top of European qualifying Group F, for the next 34 minutes at least.
The Hammers stopper may have feared his first-ever competitive defeat at Wembley – he has now not lost any of the 18 World Cup or UEFA European Championship qualifiers he has appeared in at the Home of Football – and first loss on home turf since a 1-0 defeat by Germany in November 2013, but thankfully neither occurred.
Instead, England improved as the first half wore on and were level when Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Eric Dier diverted Marcus Rashford’s near-post corner into the roof of the net eight minutes before the interval.
The home side largely dominated after the break, although Hart had to be at his best to repel a fiercely struck effort from striker Adam Nemec ten minutes into the second half.
Five minutes later, the impressive Manchester United forward Rashford lashed a low shot past Martin Dubravka to put England in front and back on course to qualify automatically for Russia 2018.
Hart’s West Ham team-mare Aaron Cresswell was an unused substitute.
Should Gareth Southgate’s side win at home to Slovenia on 5 October, they will book their place at their 15th World Cup finals.
Slovakia travel to Scotland and host Malta in their final two qualifying matches and remain favourites to secure a play-off place.
However, the Scots themselves rekindled their own hopes of reaching their first World Cup since 1998 by beating Malta and closing the gap on Slovakia to one point. Hammers midfielder Robert Snodgrass, who is currently on loan at Aston Villa, was an unused substitute at Hampden Park.
Elsewhere, Sead Haksabanovic was also among the replacements as Montenegro scored a vital 1-0 victory over Romania in Group E.
The Montenegrins started the day level on points with Denmark, but the latter’s 4-1 win in Armenia in an early kick-off put pressure on Haksabanovic and company. They responded well, with Stevan Jovetic’s second-half goal putting them back above the Danes and keeping them just three points behind leaders Poland.
Montenegro host Denmark before travelling to Poland next month in two mouth-watering closing qualifiers.
At age-group level, Anthony Scully was the day’s sole winner as his goal helped Republic of Ireland U19s to a 2-1 friendly victory over Czech Republic at the Regional Sports Centre in Waterford.
Nathan Trott was among the substitutes as England U20s drew 0-0 with Switzerland in Winterthur in another friendly.
And finally, a third goalkeeper, Rihards Matrevics, was on the losing side as Latvia U19s were beaten 5-0 by Greece in Agrinio.