Neil Humphreys: Rashford stands tall among England's toilers
Man United speedster's unpredictability makes him a forward to fear at the World Cup
England are lucky to have Marcus Rashford.
He's not so much a rose among thorns as he is a cure for a coma.
England's huffers and puffers are almost comically dull, like the boring character in a sitcom, as if the incessant tedium was deliberate.
Gareth Southgate's men got the required three points against Slovakia yesterday morning (Singapore time) to all but confirm their qualification for next year's World Cup Finals in Russia, but the 2-1 victory barely qualified as a sporting spectacle.
The Three Lions' fortunes usually follow a fickle pendulum that swings violently between hyperbole and horrible. Before a major tournament, they are world-beaters. After a tournament debacle, they are rubbish.
It's always been a feast and famine cycle, but the Wembley drudgery was neither, just a bland, no-frills diet of mediocrity. There was little cause for excitement or anger and almost no reason to watch.
Southgate has the air of a man more comfortable giving a PowerPoint presentation to stat-board number crunchers and he's got England playing like accountants.
It's risk-free football that errs on the side of caution.
Rashford’s biggest quality is his temperament. He never looks flustered. He makes a mistake, he misses a chance, he is straight back on the ball and he improves every time I see him. We have got an absolute gem on our hands.Former Manchester United And England defender Phil Neville
Against a weaker nation, Southgate still opted for two holding midfielders in Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier.
In the previous decade, England had the problem of who should sit and who should press between Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.
Now, Henderson and Dier both sit and not a great deal happens.
Despite England's superiority and home advantage, they still didn't boast a footballer with the inventive, attacking freedom of Slovakia's Marek Hamsik.
Dele Alli would be the obvious candidate, but he was too busy being the other, thuggish Dele Alli, the one caught on camera allegedly giving the middle finger to the referee.
But he was shackled for most of the evening, as was the one footballer who might legitimately worry opponents in Russia.
Alli and Rashford initially toiled in a cautious 4-4-1-1.
Alli appeared alone and lost and Rashford was straight-jacketed on the right side of a midfield quartet.
Southgate alluded to the 19-year-old's inexperience, suggesting that Rashford needed midfield support.
Certainly, the teenager's mistake gifted Slovakia an early lead in the third minute, underlining the fact that the Wembley encounter was only Rashford's third senior start.
But the 19-year-old brings the one attribute sorely lacking among England's bores: uncertainty.
Fullbacks have no idea what the impish speedster is going to do next, largely because he doesn't seem to have much of a clue either.
Rashford is so fleet-footed he gives the impression that his brain can't always keep up, forcing him to make the wrong decisions in promising positions.
But his speed and attacking swagger at least cultivate those promising positions in the first place.
In this regard, the Manchester United forward represents England's greatest World Cup hope.
Of course, Harry Kane remains the superior finisher. But, when the Three Lions are this dreary, the Tottenham striker's strengths are essentially negated. He can't offer much when he can't get the ball.
But Rashford bent the second half to his will.
When Southgate finally saw the light and moved Rashford to his favoured inside-left position, the forward flourished.
He thumped home a sumptuous goal, picked up an early assist for Dier's equaliser and almost assisted another with a delightful back-heel.
Henderson wasted that particular opportunity, but much of England's attacking play flowed through their only creative conduit.
Despite his youth, Rashford kept a clear head to rise above a morass of muddied thinking.
Take the Sundance Kid out of the equation and England are pretty much left rummaging around in the dark.
From front to back, Joe Hart, Gary Cahill, Henderson, Dier and even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Kane were tepid toilers stuck in a conservative template.
On a night when Germany went for a stroll in Stuttgart and knocked six goals past Norway, it seems unfair to compare Southgate's plodders with the Teutonic army.
But why? Nine months from now, they'll be compared at the World Cup and will suffer as a result. And yet, that's not even the most pressing issue.
Teams can lose. Opponents are occasionally humilated. That's professional sport. That's entertainment.
But the smallish crowd at Wembley were not entertained. For the most part, the non-event was an interminable slog.
Rashford was the solitary bright spark, a beacon of hope for the English and a marked man for opponents.
His unpredicability makes him a forward to fear at the World Cup.
But, apart from Rashford, England's rivals have nothing to fear except falling asleep.