England: John Stones admits to relief in the camp after Adam Lallana's late goal earns win for Sam Allardyce
Adam Lallana’s low shot sneaked in as the clock ticked into the final minute of added time to hand Sam Allardyce a 1-0 win in his first game in charge.
The Three Lions had laboured for much of the game and still struggled to find a way through the hosts’ resolute backline even after Slovakia skipper Martin Skrtel was shown a second yellow card for a nasty stamp on Harry Kane.
Allardyce had to wait 64 minutes to see his side have a shot on target and faced questions about playing captain Wayne Rooney in a deep midfield role.
But there was just enough left in the tank for England to snatch a late win and move on from their Euro 2016 humiliation at the hands of Iceland as Lallana, who had earlier hit the post before a Theo Walcott strike was ruled out for offside, struck his first international goal.
Barnsley-born Stones admitted there was a collective puff of the cheeks in the away dressing room after the game, even though he was certain the goal would arrive.
Asked what the feeling was in the dressing room, the Manchester City defender said: “Relief. We could all see it coming. We were plugging away that much that I always felt we were going to create chances.
“We left it late and going into a game you never want to score that late but when it does happen, it’s a great relief - coming off the back of the Euros to a tough place, a tough team.
“I thought it should have been a second goal (after Walcott’s) but the referee had a difficult job, and we finished the job in the end.”
Stones believes the euphoria of a late winner after the disappointment of the European Championship will also begin to breed a good mentality at the start of the Allardyce era.
“It was massive,” he replied when asked if it was an important win for confidence levels.
“I think we always believed in our ability and there were no nerves or thoughts about the Euros in our minds tonight and I think that showed in our performance.
“It was a bit slow and edgy at the start but we stuck to our game plan and kept playing our football, and a clean sheet and late win is a good result in the end.”
It looked for a long time as though England were going to be held to another frustrating draw by Slovakia, who secured qualification from Group B at Euro 2016 courtesy of a 0-0 stalemate against Roy Hodgson’s side.
But Stones said the two performances were different and this time around it did not feel as though it would end the way it did in St Etienne.
He said: “From my point of view, and a few of the other players, we were saying ‘keep patient, keep playing the way we are doing and keep grinding them down’ because they were getting further and further back towards the end of the game.
“There were more balls going in the box and more chances being created and you just sensed something was coming, which is a great quality to have in the team.”