England 2 Azerbaijan 0
Having existed on the international fringes for too long, David Beckham reasserted his preferred centre-stage role as he inspired England to a routine victory against Azerbaijan.
However, it was just as well that Beckham once again led from the front as England never came that close to the goal-fest that some had predicted.
Chances were aplenty at St James' Park, with Wayne Rooney inexplicably denied on several occasions, but only Beckham and Steven Gerrard found the back of the net.
For the Real Madrid star, however, it was a timely answer to his growing band of critics after another routine display against Northern Ireland last weekend.
Following an impassioned defence by Sven-G^ran Eriksson, Beckham lived up to his billing as he struck his 16th goal for his country on his 80th appearance.
Most of the home side's threat was created by the England captain, who left the pitch to a standing ovation, although Rooney was also highly influential in the second half before being substituted.
The end product was nevertheless not quite there for England as Michael Owen failed to set any records and also earned his second booking of the campaign, ruling himself out of the next qualifier in Wales in the autumn.
Gerrard believes there is no reason why England cannot maintain top spot through to the end of qualification.
"It was difficult. Azerbaijan weren't the toughest opponents but we had to be professional and get the win and it was a shame we didn't get more goals," he said.
"I think when you play opposition like this it is important to score early. Because it took a while to come, it got frustrating and you start to try more things which don't come off.
"We are in the driving seat and we have still got to play Poland at home and we are confident we can win the group."
On his goal, which was a drive from the edge of the penalty area which went in off the crossbar, the Liverpool midf i e l d e r admitted: "It was a bit of a mis-hit. I hit it into the floor.
"It was nice to get a goal because it was getting a bit frustrating out there with all the chances."
It took 51 minutes before Gerrard put England ahead and, with the players booed off at half-time, the crowd were clearly tiring of 'keeper Dmitri Kramarenko's supremacy.
Beckham's strike made certain of the three points and, for all the question marks that remain over this England side, they have still gained the required six points from back-to-back qualifiers.
Outscoring Poland, who beat Azerbaijan 8-0 four days earlier but only scored once against Northern Ireland, was always unrealistic.
After all, it was no surprise to see the proverbial bus, comprising five defenders and two holding midfielders, parked in front of the Azerbaijan net from the outset.
Not that the visitors' defence was exactly watertight, with Beckham creating most of the danger from the right touchline, having stayed in his assigned role much better than against the Irish.
However, although England created a plethora of first-half chances, they contrived to miss all of them.
One of Beckham's crosses was headed over by Rooney, another was directed at the 'keeper by Owen, while Frank Lampard also squandered two openings.
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan striker Gurban Gurbanov came within inches of giving the visitors the lead after a rare slip by John Terry.
England dominated thereafter without ever quite convincing. Owen's header struck Kramarenko from close range and rebounded off Beckham onto the post, while Lampard thundered a shot into the side-netting.
Rooney, who was further forward than against the Irish and found his impact reduced as a result, strode through but Kramarenko was out to smother, while Owen claimed a penalty which never came.
Fortune was clearly not favouring England and Beckham was even bizarrely booked for re-entering the pitch without permission, while still putting his boot on.
The England captain was still complaining to the officials at the interval, by which time he had also been flagged offside before crossing for Owen to convert.
England's finishing problems looked set to continue after the restart as Owen's shot was deflected over the bar, but they finally made the breakthrough on 51 minutes.
Rooney made a charging run and having ridden a tackle rather than going down in search of a penalty, he cut the ball back towards Gerrard.
The Liverpool midfielder still needed to control his half- volley as the ball bounced high, but he shot into the ground, off the bar and into the net.
Rooney's next charge from a deeper position almost set up Owen, but the striker handled the ball in his desperation to reach the cross and received his second booking of the qualifying campaign.
Beckham's appeals for a penalty then went unheard but he was not to be denied. Lampard's deep ball saw the England captain just evade the visitors' offside trap before controlling the ball on his chest.
One neat touch set him up to take aim and he picked his spot inside the left-hand upright.
Beckham's free-kick also induced a superb volley by Rooney and an equally instinctive save from Kramarenko before the striker hit the post with his next effort.
However, with Rooney left shaking his head in disbelief and frustration in equal measure, England were temporarily guilty of relaxing on their lead.
It took an excellent save by Paul Robinson to deny Nadir Nabiyev as he burst clean through and Rio Ferdinand was substituted with an apparent strain soon afterwards.
He was replaced by Ledley King, while Kieron Dyer came on for Rooney.
Beckham was also warmly applauded as he left the pitch shortly after directing a freekick narrowly wide but his job had already been done - and it was just as well.