Kyle Walker sent off as England steal late winner from the penalty spot against stubborn Iceland

They played 89 minutes until the real entertainment began when two penalties in the final two minutes of the game ended with England finally securing their victory against an Iceland side that barely moved out of their own half until the final stages.

Both sides finished with ten men in a match largely devoid of incident until the erratic Serbian referee Srdjan Jovanovic issued two penalties, one for either side, that no-one was appealing for and only England converted theirs. That was Raheem Sterling for Gareth Southgate’s side who looked like they might be heading for another humbling against the team from the frozen north when Kyle Walker was sent off with 20 minutes left.

The England defender was dismissed for a second yellow card as Southgate’s side laboured to break down what was in effect just half an Iceland team, the better parts of it lost to injury and other factors. The XI that played blocked England out for 89 minutes and while it did the cause of international football no favours, it almost achieved the meagre draw that Erik Hamren and his players set out to secure in this Nations League game.

Yet, with 89 minutes on the clock, referee Jovanovic spotted a handball by the Iceland defender Sverrir Ingason when Sterling crashed a shot at goal. It was Ingason’s second yellow of the night and in the absence of Harry Kane, substituted by then, Sterling stepped up to score the goal that looked like it would be the last drama of the game.

Remarkably there was more to come, an otherwise fine display by Joe Gomez ending with him grappling Albert Gudmundsson as a long ball dropped outside the England area. The Iceland striker fell into the box and the penalty was awarded with 90 minutes played. Up stepped the former Aston Villa midfielder Birkir Bjarnason and with Jordan Pickford committed failed to hit the target. It was just about what Iceland deserved. They did not have a shot on target all evening.

A dismal evening for players well short of match fitness and largely unable to break down a team defending their final third like it was the last patch of the island. Southgate selected an unusual team with right-back Kieran Trippier at left-back and a back four against an opponent that offered no attacking threat. Harry Kane had a goal wrongly disallowed ear

They ended the first half so dominant in possession that you might have expected the Iceland players to request they took the ball off instead of the referee, if only to get a touch of it. Just 18 per cent of the ball for the home team, laid low by injuries and others refused player-release and all eleven they did have behind the ball.

At the very start of the game England looked like they had the speed of thought and passing to work their way around a tight unambitious low-block from Iceland although when that energy faded the going became slower. The running from Jadon Sancho and the range of Phil Foden’s passing might have caught Iceland out but as they survived 15 and then 20 minutes without conceding so the home side grew a little more in confidence.

They were lucky on six minutes when the Serbian officials made the wrong decision and failed to note that Harry Kane had been onside for his far post steer into the Iceland goal. It was a bad call from the assistant referee who must have lost it in the sunshine – it was not even close. Raheem Sterling’s cross from the left got all the way past the goalkeeper Hannes Haldorsson for Kane to launch himself at the back post and guide it over the line.

No video assistant referees in the Nations League to rescue the day and this time that unloved officer of football law was badly missed. Kane knew he was onside. Even so, the officials should not have needed the technology on this occasion. A cut-back from Sancho to Declan Rice, charging into the area, was misjudged by the West Ham man and caught his standing foot rather than his striking one.

Iceland were already without Everton’s Gylfi Sigurdsson and Burnley's Johann Berg Gudmundsson. Ragnar Sigurdsson, one of the goalscorers against England in Nice in 2016, is injured. The team’s captain Aron Einar Gunnarsson was withdrawn by his Qatari club, Al-Arabi, summing up nicely the attitude of the next World Cup hosts to international football. The other goalscorer that day in Nice, Kolbeinn Sigthórsson, was injured in the warm-up and withdrawn.

These are the kind of opposition formations, low on risk, high on attrition that England have had to grind their way past for years and years in tournament qualification. Without any incentive to go forward and Kane kicked and hustled wherever he went, England struggled to find a way through. There was no space in behind either.

It was a lopsided formation for England in defence too, with Kieran Trippier at left-back and Eric Dier one of the two centre-halves. The pre-season lethargy was evident by the time they reached half-time.

Southgate had already made his first change when Walker’s red card was awarded. He had picked up a first yellow for a nudge in the back of an opponent in the first half but there was little explanation for his big lunge that caught the Iceland midfielder Arnor Traustason. The ball had gone loose when Traustason had left it to a team-mate and as he revised his decision, Walker leapt in regardless. He barely had to be told that his evening was over.

Before then Southgate had replaced Foden, who had faded fast on his debut, with Danny Ings for his second cap. Kane, exhausted by then, looked like the prime candidate but Southgate wanted a second striker although within minutes he was thinking again. Alexander-Arnold came on for Sancho and Ings took the latter’s place on the left side of the attack. Iceland could sense a result coming their way although their options were even more limited. At 36, their second half substitute Emil Halfredsson is without a club.

Southgate changed again, eventually replacing Kane with Mason Greenwood, the second England debut of the evening. Even so they struggled to make an impact until the final minutes of the match when Sterling’s shot was blocked and the Manchester City man stepped up to score the penalty. They had to keep their nerve through the Iceland penalty, which was as dreadful as you might imagine.

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