London (AFP) – Painful memories of their humiliating Euro 2016 elimination by Iceland contributed to “nervous tension” during England’s opening World Cup qualifying win in Slovakia, according to new manager Sam Allardyce.
England needed a 95th-minute goal by Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana to secure a 1-0 victory over 10-man Slovakia in Trnava on Sunday in Allardyce’s first match at the helm.
It was their first outing since June’s traumatic 2-1 loss to tiny Iceland in France and with Allardyce retaining many of the same players, he conceded it was likely to have been on their minds.
“I think they were a bit nervous coming here, but not in the week building up,” Allardyce told reporters in Trnava before returning to England with his players.
“I think I saw a little nervous tension and it’s bound to be in the back of their mind.
“They had a holiday, a pre-season, then it comes to the first game after Iceland and maybe there was nervous tension.”
Slovakia posed next to no attacking threat at City Arena, but it was not until their captain Martin Skrtel was sent off in the 57th minute that England started to make serious inroads.
“I think it was possession for possession’s sake for the opening 45 minutes, rather than trying to break the opposition down,” Allardyce said.
“So that may be a bit of subconscious (fear) about not wanting to give the ball away.
“But we have to be brave and we have to get balls with quality forward and get players in good positions and hit them as quick as we can.”
Despite the lingering fall-out from the Iceland result, which prompted his predecessor Roy Hodgson’s immediate resignation, Allardyce said his players were “a happy bunch, not a damaged bunch”.
“I haven’t asked what their biggest fear is,” he said.
“I didn’t want to talk about fear — I wanted to be positive and tell them what the future is. The only thing I mentioned about the past is to learn from it and not to feel like that again.”
Allardyce described Lallana’s goal, which gave England a winning start in Group F, as “immense”.
“It was the most important thing in my England career,” he said. “But more for the players than for me. I can only hope we get stronger.”
England host Malta in their next qualifying game on October 8.