Roy Hodgson admitted he had "agonised" over handing Andros Townsend a surprise debut against Montenegro only to see his decision vindicated as the Tottenham Hotspur winger helped inspire a victory that leaves England's World Cup destiny in their own hands.
Townsend, who has been loaned out to more clubs (nine) than he has had Premier League starts for Spurs (six), was outstanding throughout as England claimed the first of the two victories needed to propel them to Brazil. It was his charge down the right which sparked Wayne Rooney's opening goal, his sixth in five World Cup qualifiers, and the 22-year-old's emphatic finish from distance that provided a third to ease the nerves when the score was 2-1.
"We agonised over selecting Andros Townsend," Hodgson said. "We argued back and forth and had a lot of time to think about it. To leave people like Jack Wilshere and James Milner out, with all the good work he's put in for us in this group and the attacking flair they bring, was not easy. It's never easy to leave one experienced player, or one skilful player, out of the side. Or Michael Carrick, too.
"But we envisaged something and it came off. We thought Andros's pace against a packed defence would open doors. He really performed on the night and made a big impact. It can't be easy for a young player making his debut in a game of that nature but he deserves the credit. He played with a calmness and composure I've seen when he's played for Queens Park Rangers and Tottenham. He made a big impact and must be delighted."
There was an irony that a week in which the Football Association's apparent eagerness to investigate the eligibility of Manchester United's Belgian-born Albanian-Kosovan Adnan Januzaj ended with a London-born forward who is eligible to play for either Cyprus or Jamaica making waves. Townsend departed Wembley claiming he was "on top of the world".
"It was a brilliant performance for his debut, in such a high-pressure game," Rooney said. "It is great to see a young lad coming into the team and taking his chance like that. To score a fantastic goal was great as well as it really killed the game off. I'm really pleased for him."
"Andros was fantastic," added the Chelsea defender Gary Cahill. "Every time he got the ball he was positive. Every time he got the ball he looked to create or get at the full-back. When we're at home and we have such good players, teams tend to sit back and defend. It's then when pace and a bit of positivity can really make the difference. We needed that spark to give us something world-class and create something out of the blue, and he gave us that for the first goal."
While this was a win to savour, not least because bold tactics and selection had paid off, and guaranteed a play-off place, Hodgson was quick to remind all-comers that an awkward evening still awaits against Poland on Tuesday when another victory must be engineered to secure automatic qualification.
The FA anticipates around 18,000 away supporters for the fixture, against opponents whose own chances of qualifying were snuffed out by their 1-0 defeat in Ukraine on Fridaylast night. Memories abound of the Poles' 1-1 draw at Wembley 40 years ago, inspired by Jan Tomaszewski's goalkeeping, which denied Sir Alf Ramsey's side passage to the 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany.
Hodgson who is expected to play Phil Jones at right-back for the suspended Kyle Walker and will call up a replacement for the injured Tom Cleverley, claimed not to have seen that game in 1973.
"I was in South Africa [as a player] at the time and didn't have a television," he said. "But we know the job's only half done. We want to qualify direct, so we need to win against Poland. That won't be easy. That'll be difficult. They played very well in Ukraine in the first half and had the better opportunities. If they play as well as they did in that first half, it'll be a tough game.
"There was anxiety here. I'd watched that first half of Poland in Ukraine and it was 0-0 when we went out to play but I knew they [Ukraine] had scored. For all our possession, corners and attempts we had two very good goal chances and a few skirmishes. One does fear coming up against a wall of players and not finding a way through. But things opened up when we did.
"But I'll always back my players," added Hodgson, whose side remain unbeaten in this group. "I trust the players. We've had nine qualifying games now and we're still unbeaten. We're capable of going unbeaten through the 10th and, with the backing of the fans and players with the talent we have, I'd be foolish not to back the players. Our attitude will be exactly the same. It is slightly less of a knife against our throat."