England debutant Andros Townsend rewarded the faith of boss Roy Hodgson by scoring to help the Three Lions to a 4-1 victory over Montenegro that leaves them just one more win away from booking their place in Brazil.
Handed his debut on the most tense of occasions, Townsend played with a freedom no one else could match. His run set up Wayne Rooney for England's opener just after the break and then, after Dejan Damjanovic had cancelled out a bizarre Branko Boskovic own goal, Townsend scored a stunning third, driving straight at the Montenegro defence before producing a brilliant finish from the edge of the area.
It was a priceless contribution for, with Ukraine beating Poland and only having San Marino to play, England had to win to remain in control of their own destiny. Daniel Sturridge's injury-time penalty rounded off a handsome victory.
But they will take on Poland in their final match at Wembley on Tuesday without full-back Kyle Walker, suspended after being harshly booked for tugging back Stevan Jovetic in the second half.
Some of the doom mongers looked skywards upon their arrival, watched the rain fall and recalled Steve McClaren's 'Wally with the Brolly' night of distress against Croatia in 2007.
Others with longer memories talked about Jan Tomaszewski, the Polish goalkeeper dubbed a clown by Brian Clough, who prevented England from reaching the 1974 World Cup. Those negatives were at odds with Hodgson's pre-match demeanour. And his forceful attitude was clearly not for show either given the bold selection of Townsend.
The winger repaid him with plenty of direct running, which unsettled the Montenegro defence rather more than the curling crossed regularly dumped into the visitors' penalty area from the free-kicks the Spurs man tended to win.
Hodgson's other decision of significance, the inclusion of Sturridge, did not pay off as he would have wanted. The Liverpool man snatched at a couple of chances, then attempted an elaborate near-post finish from Rooney's low cross at the end of the opening period when a rather more straightforward attempt was called for.
Danny Welbeck went close on a couple of occasions, including one that was deflected to leave Poleksic stranded. But it was his Manchester United team-mate Rooney who came closest to breaking an increasingly tense deadlock. Townsend was the architect, smashing a shot at goal Poleksic could only parry into his path.
The angle was tight. However, a player of Rooney's quality would expect to do far better than clip the outside of a post given the closeness of the contest.
As the half-time break brought news of a result in Kharkiv that meant anything other than victory would almost certainly condemn England to the hazardous play-offs at best, a few nerves could have been forgiven.
None were showing though as within three minutes of the restart England had the goal they craved. It was no surprise Townsend was heavily involved. He charged down the wing at speed before pulling a cross back that was flicked into Welbeck's path. His shot did not beat Poleksic but it was hit with enough power to prevent the Montenegro keeper from holding it. Rooney stuck out a leg, brought the ball under control and from a central position calmly slotted it in.
The sense of relief was palpable, matched almost by stunned amazement at the manner of England's second. Sturridge's back-heel released Welbeck, whose cross was dangerous only for Boskovic, who, from 12 yards, somehow found the bottom corner when he was attempting to clear.
It was the type of good fortune absent when Walker picked up his costly booking, but England benefited from as Joe Hart saved from Damjanovic and Stevan Jovetic rattled the bar from long range.
Those misses, either side of that bizarre own-goal, seemed to sap the will from visiting legs. Gerrard and Welbeck both failed to make the game safe but it seemed only a matter of time before someone did.
Instead, Damjanovic got his foot to Fatos Beciraj's shot to set up a nervous final 19 minutes. For the first time Hodgson looked a little worried as he sat on the bench, chewing at his nails.
Townsend was not watching though. He just picked up the ball and ran straight through the heart of Montenegro's defence before producing a brilliant finish.
There was still time for an injury-time penalty, converted by Sturridge after he had been fouled by Ivan Kecojevic, but it was academic.
Goal difference does not matter now. Beat Poland and England are through. Fail and they head into the play-offs.