England's stand-in captain Michael Owen led from the front by heading the winner in the World Cup qualifier against Azerbaijan.
Owen, deputising for the injured and suspended David Beckham in Baku, stole in on Ashley Cole's cross to head home after 21 minutes.
It strengthened England's position at the head of Group Six after a scrappy encounter in atrocious conditions.
Azerbaijan rarely threatened, with Emin Guliyev firing narrowly off target.
England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson opted for Newcastle's Jermaine Jenas as replacement for Beckham.
And England almost got the perfect start when Owen met Gary Neville's cross, but could not find the target.
Azerbaijan have been buoyed by home draws against Wales and Northern Ireland, and they came close to taking a shock lead after 11 minutes.
Guliyev's long-range drive almost shocked Paul Robinson, drifting only inches wide.
And England took advantage of the escape to take the lead, courtesy of Owen, in the 21st minutes.
Cole's measured cross to the far post was met by the unmarked Owen, who headed past Jahangir Hasanzade from eight yards.
Wayne Rooney, who had been booked for a foul on Anatoly Ponomaryov, had an opportunity to extend England's lead five minutes before the interval when Hasanadze was harshly penalised for picking up a back-pass.
Nicky Butt set Rooney up from close range, but his powerful drive rebounded to safety off the wall.
Robinson had to be alert to dive at the feet of Samir Aliyev eight minutes after half-time when England struggled to clear a free-kick.
But England responded with a threat of their own, Hasanzade looking uncertain as he turned a 30-yard free-kick from Frank Lampard over the top.
England coach Eriksson then made a switch, sending on Alan Smith for the subdued Jermain Defoe, as well as introducing Shaun Wright-Phillips for Jenas.
Rooney had worked hard in his deeper role, and he tested Hasanzade with another England free-kick, but the goalkeeper was equal to the task.
Azerbaijan enjoyed a greater share of possession in the closing stages, but England survived without any serious alarms.
Azerbaijan: Hasanzade, Hajiyev, Sadygov, Amirbekov, Shukurov, Kerimov, Emin Guliyev (Ilgar Gurbanov 75), Kamal Guliyev, Ponomarev, Nabiev (Abdullayev 79), Aliyev (Gurban Gurbanov 59). Subs Not Used: Makhmud Gurbanov, Mekhtiev, Abbasov, Mamedov.
Booked: Kamal Guliyev, Sadygov.
England: Robinson, Gary Neville, Ashley Cole, Butt, Ferdinand, Campbell, Jenas (Wright-Phillips 72), Lampard, Rooney (Joe Cole 84), Owen, Defoe (Smith 55). Subs Not Used: King, James, Terry, Hargreaves.
Booked: Rooney, Ashley Cole, Butt.
Goals: Owen 22.
Ref: Alain Hamer (Luxembourg).