Ross Barkley shines as England beat Estonia in Euro 2016 qualifying

There is only one small thing that can be held against Ross Barkley after his contribution to England’s latest win and it is that Estonia were obliging opponents for a man desperate to show it is time he is turned into a mandatory first-team pick. All the same, Barkley must have done enough here to make it difficult in the extreme for Roy Hodgson to leave him out. It was his finest night in England’s colours and when Barkley plays with this freedom and exuberance it is easy to see why Hodgson sees flashes of Paul Gascoigne in the Everton player.

Barkley was outstanding, thrilling an impressively large Wembley crowd, and the pass to set up Theo Walcott for England’s first goal – a diagonal 15-yard nutmeg through a congested penalty area – was of that rare variety when it felt like the pot of superlatives might run dry. Suffice to say it was an extraordinary piece of individual brilliance, taking out five defenders with one piece of vision and high skill. Not everything Barkley tried came off but he can be forgiven the odd lapse when he is capable of conjuring up these moments of brilliance and it was exhilarating to see the way he took his chance, as if absolutely determined to show he deserved to be in this team

Twice in the second half he came close to scoring a spectacular goal, on each occasion evading two defenders with that wonderful balance and body movement, before leaving the pitch late on for Dele Alli to make his senior debut. By then England had scored a second goal, created by the substitute Jamie Vardy and turned in by Raheem Sterling, and Hodgson’s team have now won all nine of their qualifiers. They are the only team in the entire process with an immaculate record and a 10th is likely when they wrap everything up in Lithuania on Monday.

Hodgson’s plan in Vilnius is to play a more experimental side, featuring Jack Butland in goal and Jonjo Shelvey in midfield with Phil Jones and Phil Jagielka returning in defence, and five players – Wayne Rooney, James Milner, Michael Carrick, Gary Cahill and Joe Hart – returning to their clubs. Barkley was deployed here in a withdrawn, slightly left-sided position rather than the more advanced No 10 role where he has excelled for Everton this season and Hodgson said that would continue.

Barkley’s involvement always give England a more exciting feel and his contribution was also a reminder that a perfectly executed pass can be every bit as beautiful as a shot into the top corner or a mazy, dribbling run through the opposition defence. It is difficult to remember a more exquisitely delivered nutmeg, or certainly one that doubles up as a defence-splitting through-ball, and perhaps the most impressive part was that when he spotted the chance to go between Karol Mets’s legs it was more than just one-upmanship that compelled him to find the gap.

Barkley played the ball with equal measures of speed and accuracy and suddenly Walcott was six yards from goal with time to control the pass and side-foot his shot inside the far post. It was a wonderful goal and Hodgson, one imagines, will forgive Barkley for the stray pass across midfield earlier in the match, giving the ball straight to an Estonian attacker. Barkley will always be a risk-taker but amid all the acclaim he does need to be aware that, against a better team, that form of carelessness could have left his team in danger.

England had been laboured for much of the first half and there was a slow feel to the game once the home team could not make the most of their early superiority. Perhaps that was just inevitable given that England had qualified for the tournament, chosen their Euro 2016 hotel and arranged most of their warm-up matches while there were still three qualifying games to go. It did, however, make it a prosaic spectacle at times for a crowd that could not even get enthused enough to arrange a proper Mexican wave.

Walcott did at least show signs that he wanted to make something happen, including an early volley that brought a flying save from the goalkeeper, Mihkel Aksalu, and a deflected shot into the side-netting after Adam Lallana’s flick. Overall, though, it was an undistinguished first-half performance and there were even fleeting moments when Estonia abandoned their ultra-cautious approach to break forward. It would be an exaggeration to say Hart’s goal was seriously threatened but it did take an improvised flick from Chris Smalling to turn Konstantin Vassiljev’s left-wing cross behind for a corner.

Estonia quickly settled back into conservatism during the second half, creating little of note and making it difficult to assess the performance of England’s defence. Hodgson’s team were in complete control despite holding only a one-goal lead and Barkley, as Hodgson said, was “strutting his stuff”. One driving run through midfield took the 21-year-old from the centre circle all the way into the penalty area before he was halted. A left-foot shot flashed just wide, then a right-footed effort drew another save from Aksalu.

It was not until the 85th minute, however that England made certain of the victory. Harry Kane, who worked hard in place of the injured Rooney without having one of his better games, flicked on a long goal-kick, Vardy was given the benefit of the doubt after nudging Taijo Teniste to the ground and, running in from the left, squared the ball for Sterling to score from close range.