England suffered 45 minutes of frustration before beating Azerbaijan at St James' Park with goals from Steven Gerrard and David Beckham.
Azerbaijan survived a first-half siege, and even came close to going ahead through Gurban Gurbanov, before England broke the deadlock after 51 minutes.
Gerrard scored at the far post from Wayne Rooney's cross before Beckham raced clear to add a second.
England were dominant with Rooney and Frank Lampard hitting the woodwork.
Sven-Goran Eriksson's side never threatened to emulate Poland's 8-0 thrashing of Azerbaijan, and a second-half booking for Michael Owen rules him out of the qualifier against Wales in Cardiff in September.
England, attempting to follow on from Poland's rout, almost fell behind in sensational fashion after seven minutes.
John Terry's mistake allowed Gurbanov to break clear and his shot beat Paul Robinson only to fly inches wide.
The rest of the half was a tale of ceaseless England pressure, with the Azerbaijan goal somehow surviving intact.
Owen had a header saved by Dmitry Kramarenko, then saw a header ricochet off the goalkeeper on to Beckham before striking the post.
Lampard, who had earlier shot narrowly wide, struck the outside of the post from 20 yards with Kramarenko well beaten after 26 minutes.
Gerrard then tested Kramarenko, before Beckham was booked for apparently returning to the pitch without permission after losing a boot.
Owen missed the best chance of the game, somehow heading wide of an open goal, before Beckham wasted the last opportunity of the half with a poor far-post header.
Azerbaijan's Elmar Bakhshiyev forced Robinson's first serious save of the night seconds after the re-start, before England finally broke the deadlock after 51 minutes.
Rooney escaped two challenges on the left before crossing to the far post for Gerrard to score via the crossbar.
Owen was booked for attempting to handle Rooney's cross into the net, a second yellow card of the qualifiers that rules him out of the game against Wales.
Azerbaijan were finally starting to look stretched, and it was no surprise when Beckham ran on to Lampard's pass to score with a neat finish after 62 minutes.
England were almost camped in the Azerbaijan penalty area, and Rooney brought a fine diving stop from Kramarenko before hitting the post with a header seconds later.
Robinson then spared England's blushes with a fine block from Nadir Nabiyev.
And in injury time Owen's frustrating night was complete when Kramerenko blocked his shot after he found himself unmarked at the far post.
England: Robinson, Gary Neville, Ferdinand (King 77), Terry, Ashley Cole, Beckham (Defoe 84), Gerrard, Lampard, Joe Cole, Rooney (Dyer 77), Owen.
Subs Not Used: Carragher, James, Jenas, Heskey.
Booked: Beckham, Owen.
Goals: Gerrard 51, Beckham 62.
Azerbaijan: Kramarenko, Abdurahmanov, Amirbekov (Vugar Guliyev 45), Sadygov, Hadzhiev, Hashymov, Melikov, Bahshiev, Kerimov, Gurban Gurbanov (Ponomarev 76), Nabiev (Ahtyamov 76).
Subs Not Used: Hasanzade, Kamal Guliyev, Abbasov, Ilgar Gurbanov.
Booked: Vugar Guliyev.
Ref: Paulo Manuel Gomes Costa (Portugal).