Fresh from back-to-back 4-0 victories against Hungary and Andorra, the Three Lions rounded off their September triple-header by heading to Warsaw for what was always going to be their toughest Group I assignment.
England put in a mature performance and Kane silenced the partisan Polish crowd with a fine strike from distance, only for the hosts to roar back as Szymanski secured a 1-1 draw in stoppage time.
Gareth Southgate’s side dropped points for the first time on the road to Qatar, but they remain in control of the group with four matches remaining.
It was a deflating end to what had been a largely positive evening for the visitors, who kicked on after a lacklustre first half and went ahead when Kane’s strike from 30 yards beat Wojciech Szczesny.
Jordan Pickford almost played himself into trouble when his clearance hit Karol Swiderski and looped over his head, but England were pegged back in stoppage time as substitute Szymanski headed home.
But captain Kane insisted England remain in a commanding position despite Poland’s last-gasp leveller.
He said: “It’s a tough one to take, I thought we handled the game well. It’s not an easy place to come and another tough game. We were seeing the game out well.
“Away from home sometimes the pressure builds and they put a good cross in and scored a good header, that’s football. It’s still been a great camp for us, we’re still four points clear with four games to go.
“There were a couple of rebounds and second balls and it fell their way. We will learn from it and watch it back. There have been two tough away games in this camp, we’re still four points clear and we’re still in a great position.”
Southgate may regret his decision not to make any substitutions, having made 11 changes to the starting line-up and reverted to the team that won against Hungary.
Just like that night in Budapest the England players were booed when taking the knee, having seen ‘God Save the Queen’ applauded by many home fans after initial whistles.
Kyle Walker blocked a threatening attempt from Tymoteusz Puchacz, who Kalvin Phillips picked up an eighth minute yellow card for a foul on – one of a number of refereeing decisions that irked England.
Poland were defending aggressively and Robert Lewandowski’s presence was proving problematic at the other end, with Jakub Moder getting away a driven attempt before Adam Buksa just failed to reach a cross. England were enjoying the majority of possession but failed to muster a shot on target in the opening period, with Kane missing the target with a wayward header after Mason Mount bent wide.
Lewandowski had Poland’s best effort of the opening period, bundling through to meet a clipped Karol Linetty pass but just failing to get enough on the ball to beat Pickford.
Tensions frayed at the break. Kamil Glik appeared to pinch Walker before a stoppage-time free-kick, with both sets of players clashing at half-time. Harry Maguire was incensed and eventually booked along with the Poland defender.
Szczesny comfortably dealt with a long-range Phillips shot as the visitors continued in the ascendancy, with fleet-footed Raheem Sterling putting Poland’s backline on edge.
England were beginning to find gaps in the Polish backline through patient probing and landed a gut punch from distance as Kane took aim from 30 yards and beat former Arsenal goalkeeper Szczesny.
The goal moved the captain clear of Michael Owen onto 41 international goals but it did not prove the winner in Warsaw.
Pickford was breathing a sigh of relief when his needlessly delayed clearance hit Swiderski and looped over him, leading him to beat a hasty retreat to stop it crossing the line. They pushed on undeterred in stoppage time and Lewandowski stood up a fine ball to the far post, where Szymanski beat Luke Shaw to head home.