Standing in as captain, Wayne Rooney rose to the occasion - and up England's goal-scoring leaderboard to fifth place.
The striker netted twice in a 5-0 rout of San Marino in World Cup qualifying Friday to take his tally to 31 goals, overtaking Tom Finney, Nat Lofthouse and Alan Shearer.
"They're fantastic players and to overtake them is great," Rooney said. "It's an honor and achievement for me. Hopefully, there are many more. I'm only 26 and a long way to go in my international career."
Overhauling Bobby Charlton's England record of 49 goals seems achievable for Rooney.
Rooney took 35 minutes to break the deadlock against the world's joint-lowest ranked team, who proved to be highly-defensive, stubborn Wembley opponents.
"It's bit of a weird feeling because they put everyone behind the ball and we had 90-95 percent possession," said Rooney, who had the captain's armband due to Steven Gerrard's suspension. "Going on past 30 minutes, you're thinking, 'Is this going to go on?'. Thankfully, it didn't."
Rooney scored from the penalty spot and then netted England's third in the 71st on a night when Manchester United players shone for England.
Danny Welbeck also scored in each half, and United teammate Tom Cleverley set up Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to complete the comprehensive victory.
"I thought all the Manchester United players played with enormous confidence, the inter-passing between them was good throughout," England coach Roy Hodgson said.
England heads to Poland on Tuesday top of Group H, although Hodgson's side has played a game more than Montenegro and Poland, who are both three points behind.
The one setback was Theo Walcott being taken to a hospital for scans on a chest injury after colliding with goalkeeper Aldo Junior Simoncini in the opening ten minutes.
"If I described it as reckless I would be being kind," Hodgson said. "It was a very fierce challenge although I don't think for one minute there was any malice in it when he went for the ball ... we have to wait now and find out the extent of his injury.
"When your goalkeeper does that you are very lucky to still have him on the field and not to have a penalty given against him."
Simoncini was called into action after three minutes, to tip Oxlade-Chamberlain's 25-yard effort over.
England's quality close to goal, though, was distinctly lacking as they were short on creativity and verve.
Rooney was presented with two openings, heading over and wide, before Gary Cahill drilled a low shot at Simoncini.
As England increasingly found its route to goal blocked by the tightly-packed defense, Oxlade-Chamberlain slammed the ball high over the crossbar and Rooney charged in with a diving header that went wide.
As the clock passed 30 minutes, with Michael Carrick hitting the crossbar and Welbeck sending the follow-up against the post, the opening goal looked increasingly elusive.
Then the breakthrough came to ease any nerves after Simoncini tripped Welbeck and Rooney scored from the penalty spot.
Welbeck doubled England's lead inside two minutes, flicking the ball into the net at the near post after the ball was cut back by Aaron Lennon, who had replaced Walcott.
The second half, though, started just as frustratingly as the first.
Cahill slid a shot wide on the volley and Cleverly struck wide before Rooney finally netted again as San Marino tired, bending the ball into the net from the edge of the area after being set up by Lennon.
Welbeck was on target again two minutes later, clipping Tom Cleverley's cross into the net at the near post, and Oxlade-Chamberlain grabbed his first England goal in the 77th.
"There are a lot of positives," Hodgson said. "There were almost 85,000 people, I thought that was fantastic. The type of football we played would have entertained them.
"There could have been a lot more goals but there was a lot of goalmouth action and a lot of quality passing."