Gareth Southgate’s first game in interim charge of England ended in victory as Malta were beaten 2-0 at Wembley on Saturday.
Daniel Sturridge and Dele Alli did the damage with two goals inside nine first-half minutes as England enjoyed a second successive victory in World Cup qualifying and moved to the top of Group F.
The evening was as comfortable as Southgate might have expected against a side ranked 176th in the world, and the result, which comes 11 days after Sam Allardyce left the England job, will come as a welcome relief after a turbulent period for the national team.
Southgate has taken over as caretaker England boss for four matches and made a big call by handing Manchester United forward Jesse Lingard his international debut in an attack that also featured the recalled Theo Walcott and Sturridge, with Wayne Rooney playing in a midfield role.
Ryan Bertrand was selected at left-back but his afternoon came to a premature end in the 19th minute when he pulled up injured and was replaced by Danny Rose, who himself had only just recovered from a hamstring strain.
That blow came during an opening spell in which England were frustrated by the minnows of Malta who played five at the back and had a goalkeeper, Andrew Hogg, in inspired form.
After Rooney had tested his reflexes early on with a curling drive from the edge of the area, Hogg produced a good close-range save from Alli’s header before Sturridge volleyed the rebound into the stands with the goal at his mercy.
However, England found the breakthrough on 29 minutes when the impressive Jordan Henderson collected the ball from Walcott 30 yards from goal and crossed for Sturridge to divert a precise header into the bottom corner from eight yards.
Hogg produced another fine close-range save four minutes later to keep out Lingard’s header, but he could not deny Alli as England doubled their lead seven minutes before half-time.
Henderson and Sturridge exchanged passes in a patient England build-up and while Hogg kept out Alli’s initial effort from just inside the area he could do nothing to stop him poking the rebound into the net.
England continued to dominate after the break, but Hogg frustrated their attempts to improve their goal difference as he tipped a Rooney free-kick over the bar and rushed out to block Walcott’s shot from an acute angle after the Arsenal forward had been slipped into space by Lingard.
Walcott was replaced by Marcus Rashford on 68 minutes and two of the 18-year-old’s Manchester United team-mates almost carved out a third as Rooney’s quick free-kick resulted in Lingard fizzing a shot narrowly wide.
Jamie Vardy’s introduction with 17 minutes remaining was met with warm applause from most of the 81,781 supporters inside Wembley, but England laboured as the game wore on and Joe Hart was forced into a rare save from Andre Agius’ volley with 10 minutes left.
Alli should have scored his second and England’s third when he blasted Rashford’s low cross over the bar from six yards with five minutes left – but Malta could not avoid a second defeat in as many World Cup qualifying matches.
The first part of Southgate’s audition for the full-time job ended in a solid, if unspectacular, success – but he is likely face a sterner test of his credentials when England travel to Slovenia on Tuesday evening.