England turned on the style and struck four second-half goals to end Northern Ireland's stubborn resistance in the World Cup qualifier at Old Trafford.
Northern Ireland had frustrated England with Wayne Rooney hitting a post and keeper Maik Taylor in outstanding form.
But Joe Cole sparked a spell of three goals in nine minutes after the break.
Michael Owen added a second from close range before Chris Baird turned Rooney's cross into his own net and Frank Lampard hit a deflected fourth.
England were impressive in killing off the Irish once the deadlock was broken, and coach Sven-Goran Eriksson will be delighted to see his side take another giant stride towards next year's World Cup in Germany.
Eriksson, as expected, played Chelsea's Cole on the left-flank and he was prominent in a first 45 minutes played almost exclusively in Northern Ireland territory.
Lampard released Owen clear on goal after 17 minutes, but he did not finish with his usual assurance and goalkeeper Taylor saved low down.
And England came even closer to breaking the deadlock two minutes later, when Rooney headed against the post from Gary Neville's cross.
The Manchester United teenager was in rampant mood, and he tested the Northern Ireland defence on two more occasions, bringing a diving save from Taylor with a 25-yard drive, then shooting narrowly wide from distance.
Taylor was single-handedly keeping England at bay, saving well from David Beckham's free-kick and turning another effort from Lampard around the post.
The visitors were playing with more composure as the interval approached, but after surviving the opening half, they were blitzed by three England goals inside nine minutes at the start of the second period.
Joe Cole broke the deadlock a minute after the break, with a careless pass from Tony Capaldi undoing all the Irish resistance, allowing the England midfield man to curl home a precise finish from 20 yards.
England doubled their lead five minutes later, Lampard surging into the area to leave Owen to score from six yards.
Lawrie Sanchez's side had crumbled, and a piece of brilliance from Rooney created the third after 54 minutes.
He escaped the attentions of Colin Murdock tight to the byline, and his cross was turned into his own net by Baird at the near post.
England were fortunate when another cruel deflection provided their fourth after 61 minutes, Lampard's shot from outside the area coming off Murdock's head and leaving Taylor hopelessly wrong-footed.
Rooney was running defenders ragged and he helped substitute Kieron Dyer set up another chance for Lampard, but he struck the bar with the goal at his mercy.
England: Robinson, Gary Neville, Ferdinand, Terry, Ashley Cole, Beckham (Dyer 72), Lampard, Gerrard (Hargreaves 72), Joe Cole, Rooney (Defoe 80), Owen.
Subs Not Used: James, Carragher, King, Heskey.
Goals: Joe Cole 47, Owen 52, Baird 54 og, Lampard 62.
Northern Ireland: Taylor, Baird, Hughes, Murdock, Capaldi, Doherty (Davis 59), Gillespie, Johnson, Whitley (Jones 88), Elliott, Healy (Kirk 88).
Subs Not Used: Carroll, Williams, Feeney, Craigan.
Ref: Wolfgang Stark (Germany).