Wayne Rooney edged one step closer to Sir Bobby Charlton’s scoring record by saving England’s blushes in the Baltic.
Manchester United and England captain Rooney is now just six shy of becoming the Three Lions’ most prolific goalscorer thanks to a 73rd-minute free-kick, which Sergei Pareiko fumbled into his own net to hand Roy Hodgson’s this win over 10-man Estonia.
For much of the match England looked like coming away from the A Le Coq Arena with just a point.
Hodgson’s team dominated the game from start to finish, but also wasted chance after chance.
They were even given a huge helping hand by Estonia captain Ragnar Klavan, who was sent off three minutes into the second half for a second booking.
Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were guilty of missing chances, but the biggest culprit was Rooney, who spurned three good opportunities.
Estonia, ranked 81st in the world, might have held on for a famous draw had the England captain not made up for his mistakes by clipping a majestic dipping free-kick over the wall and into the net off the goalkeeper and a post.
Hodgson, who started with Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling on the bench, spoke of the attacking potency of his squad before the match, but he will be concerned about the profligacy his players exhibited last night.
Still, the England manager will also be mindful that his team have now recorded three wins from three in their Euro 2016 qualification campaign.
Hodgson had called for his team to “puncture” the home defence early, but it was Estonia who almost deflated the noisy England fans with an early effort.
Henri Anier found Sergei Zenjov after Fabian Delph was dispossessed in midfield, but Gary Cahill put in a crucial block and the ball flew just wide.
England woke up and started hitting Estonia with attack after attack.
Calum Chambers found space on the right and whipped in a delightful ball to Welbeck, but he mis-timed his run and Estonia breathed freely in the chilly Baltic air again.
Jack Wilshere was hit by a late challenge from Artur Pikk, but he soon recovered and curled a fine pass over the defence for Rooney, but he wasted his chance by blasting over the bar.
It proved to be a recurring theme for the rest of the half as England spurned opportunity after opportunity.
Rooney failed to convert Leighton Baines’s cross after gaining space in the area and the England captain again failed to test the Estonian goalkeeper despite being played in by Wilshere, who was impressing at the base of the midfield diamond.
Gary Cahill was lucky to avoid a booking for crunching into Sergei Zenjov, but Baines did enter the book after catching Ilja Antonov with a flying forearm.
The home crowd shrieked whenever Estonia threatened, but that was not very often.
The ball fell to Enar Jaager, but his half-volley was so poor it flew out for a throw-in, much to the amusement of both sets of fans.
England continued to dominate, but they could not find the opening goal.
Welbeck cut in from the left flank and let fly with a low shot, but Jaager tracked back and cleared off the line.
Wilshere was the next man to squander a chance, driving the ball into the side-netting
The Arsenal midfielder drew Pareiko into making his first save a minute before the break when England trudged off the pitch frustrated at failing to break the deadlock.
England remained on top at the start of the second half, but once again they struggled to break through an organised and rigid defence.
They were given a helping hand though when Klavan, who was booked in the first half for a foul on Welbeck, knocked Delph over as he raced through and the referee sent him off.
Despite holding a numerical advantage, England still looked blunt in and around the Estonia area.
Hodgson sent on Sterling and Oxlade-Chamberlain to inject some pace into the team.
The Arsenal substitute should have scored shortly after his introduction, but he mis-timed his jump following a smart delivery by Chambers and Estonia survived again.
England thought they had won a penalty when Martin Vunk, an Estonian journeyman who has played for 12 teams, knocked over Sterling, but the referee ruled the winger was outside the box.
It did not matter though as Rooney did the business from the free-kick.
The England captain curled a dipping shot over the wall onto a post. Pareiko made a complete hash of the save, dropping the ball into his own net and England had the lead. Finally.
England took their foot off the gas in the final few minutes, but they still missed another chance in stoppage time when Rooney raced through but shot straight at Pareiko.