England 5 Albania 0: Rout of minnows leaves more questions than answers

There were nearly 10 minutes to half-time when the first paper aeroplane (that I spotted) drifted somewhat aimlessly down from the top tier of Wembley’s North Stand.

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Paper aeroplanes in international football are never a good sign, rather an indication that the crowd – 80,366-strong last night – is getting bored. When England were last here, against Hungary in October, it showed the Three Lions’ limp football was not getting supporters excited. This time a spectacular mismatch killed the mood.

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Harry Kane had just scored his second goal from a tightish angle against an Albanian team that already had three players in the referee’s notebook, two in the treatment room, and four goals in Thomas Strakosha’s net. Kane would pass up two more chances and still complete his hat-trick by half-time.

England's Harry Maguire celebrates scoring their side's first goal of the World Cup qualifier with Albania (Picture: PA)

Imagine what the reluctant Tottenham Hotspur striker could have done had he been in form?

By the second half, Mexican Waves were rippling around Wembley with even the packed Albanian section joining in. This really was a long way from Hungary’s visit.

This was sport without jeopardy, which is not really sport at all. It was taking sweets from a baby that does not like sweets, if there is such a thing. It made the pre-match fear-mongering about England messing up qualification for Qatar laughable. They now need a point in San Marino on Monday. A daunting mission it is not.

Still, England had a job to do and it was not their fault Albania made it so easy.

Heads you win: England's Harry Maguire scores their side's first goal (Picture: PA)

Some people got a bit angsty that Gareth Southgate selected three centre-backs against opponents of Albania’s questionable calibre but with only a few extreme exceptions, formations are neither positive or negative, only how you play them is. England very soon realised the front foot football they had been working on at St George’s Park this week was going to come in handy.

Maybe it might have been different had Jordan Pickford not made an excellent save when the terrible backpass Kyle Walker, on the 10th anniversary of the Sheffielder’s international debut, admonished himself for played Myrto Uzuni clean through at 0-0.

It was hard to work out how the visitors thought they were trying to play. Lorenc Trashi seemed to be trying to be on the left of a back five when England had the ball, and a left-sided midfielder on the rare occasions when Albania did. They looked like their coach had forgotten to give them any tactical instructions at all.

Harry Maguire was the first to jump on the goalscoring gravy train. A reckless Klaus Gjasula tackle, already Albania’s third or fourth near the knuckle, brought a ninth-minute free-kick the Sheffield-born defender headed home for his sixth England goal.

General view as both teams and the fans observe a silence for Remembrance Day during the FIFA World Cup Qualifying match at Wembley Stadium, London. (Picture: PA)

He celebrated by sticking his fingers in his ears to shush all those who have been making a noise about his poor recent performances – nasty people like Harry Maguire’s media team, who had been tweeting apologies for them. Pointlessness would be the theme of a night where the away team wore white and England their all-blue away strip.

Kane can score in every competition but the Premier League at the moment so when Jordan Henderson, freed up by Kalvin Phillips’s deeper role, got to the byline and chipped over a cross, he headed in. Soon after Henderson twisted himself into the space to make it three.

Kane volleyed a Raheem Sterling pass just off target, then glanced a diving header from a cross by impressive wing-back Reece James wide to keep us on the edge of our seats as to whether he would claim the matchball in the first or second half. A scissor-kick volley from Phil Foden’s stoppage-time corner settled that.

Head, left foot, then right, it was both a perfect hat-trick and a slightly empty one. Still, he is three nearer Wayne Rooney’s record, now on 44 England goals.

Sir Geoff Hurst, who laid a shirt on the field in memory of Doncaster-born Ron Flowers, whose death was announced hours earlier, must have fancied having a crack himself.

When Qazim Laci tried something similarly spectacular, all he succeeded in doing was creating a nasty clash of heads between James and John Stones which ended the former’s good night.

Leeds United supporters will be pleased to know Phillips got an early shower, taken off after 64 minutes, Huddersfield Town fans can take a little pride that their former loanee, Emile Smith Rowe, made his debut as a second-half right-winger.

That apart, Jack Grealish’s 85th-minute shot against the upright was about the only moment of note after half-time.

Are England any better equipped to finally win another major tournament than in the summer? Is Kane back in form? Is Maguire? Has James pushed his way to the front of a very long right wing-back queue? Is Phillips a better option as the holding midfielder than the ill Declan Rice? Is Smith Rowe an international footballer?

All of these questions and more went unanswered. It was a box-ticking exercise on the inevitable road to Qatar but at least the box was emphatically ticked. It is not always something England have been able to take for granted.

England: Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire; James (Alexander-Arnold 77), Henderson, Phillips (Bellingham 64), Chilwell; Foden (Grealish 64), Kane (Abraham 64), Sterling (Smith Rowe 77). Unused substitutes: Johnstone, Mings, Coady, Saka, Ramsdale.

Albania: Strakosha; Ismajli, Veseli, Kumbulla (Dermaku 16); Hysaj, Gjasula, Bare (Laci 12), Trashi (Mihaj 46); Uzuni (Roshi 86), Cikalleshi; Bajrami (Ramadani 46). Unused substitutes: Berisha, Hoxhallari, Lenjani, Cekici, Selmani, Balaj,Doka.

Referee: F Zwayer (Germany)