It was the night club problems caught up with the country for two of England’s biggest stars – leaving Gareth Southgate to pick up the pieces.
But what comes next is what should worry Southgate ahead of next year’s World Cup.
As it is, he took the only action available to him on Tuesday night as his side struggled at Wembley – pulling off his two most reliable match winners when he desperately needed a goal.
The two were hooked after 76 ineffective minutes, during which Kane desperately unleashed a wide volley from inside the box and Sterling shot straight at Peter Gulacsi in a face-to-face with the Hungarian keeper.
Southgate had seen enough and must now hope for a sudden change in fortunes by the November international window. The problem is, there are few signs of this for either player.
Southgate has tried to take the path of collective responsibility in the aftermath of a draw that leaves England three points ahead of Poland with two games to go. It was a bad night at the office for all, he claimed – but nothing to mask the deeper issues with the pillars of England’s attack.
Kane appears to have the weight of the world on his shoulders after failing to move to Manchester City this summer. With the nights approaching, he has yet to score a Premier League goal. Since the 2014-15 season, he hasn’t had to wait that long to step back into the top flight, marking his first of this campaign as a substitute against Aston Villa on November 2. Still, his first League start this season didn’t come until a week later.
In other words, there is no comparison to what he endures now as England captain and a man considered one of the best strikers on the planet.
The class is permanent, but Kane suffers from a discomfort that has caused his streak of goals in each of his previous 15 World Cup and European Championship qualifiers to a shaky end.
“The performances of the club and the country may not have been there in recent weeks,” said the 28-year-old.
It’s a crisis he needs to come out of for the sake of Tottenham and England – and cannot be ignored by Southgate if his talisman club’s form continues to suffer between now and the next national team meeting.
The hope remains that he will get back in shape, which is an avenue that has not been available to Sterling.
The City forward has only started four games this season – only two of them in the League – to highlight how far he has slipped in the hierarchy under Pep Guardiola.
After his exceptional Euros, it’s easy to forget the doubts that hung over his place in the England squad after falling out of favor at City in the second half of last season.
Southgate kept the faith and was rewarded with Sterling scoring the goals when Kane was not in the summer. He was one of the players in the tournament, but that didn’t do much to influence Guardiola’s thinking.
While City’s £ 100million signing of Jack Grealish means England benefit from the winger now playing at the highest level with his club, he has become another obstacle for Sterling.
Can Southgate seriously stay with one of his most trusted soldiers if he continues to be sidelined at City?
“There is obviously a crisis with Pep, something is going on there,” ITV expert Roy Keane said of the situation.
Southgate, meanwhile, is helpless to fix it and at the mercy of Guardiola for his handling of one of the country’s most important players.
There will be worrying echoes of John Stones’ situation when he goes from being a World Cup semi-finalist to being all but ruled out of City’s first team and ultimately abandoned by England.
To the defender’s credit, he fought for club and country – and on Tuesday night he provided the advantage to Kane and Sterling with the tying goal that saved a point after Roland Sallai’s penalty kick at the 24th minute.
Still, he entered this international break with his own club concerns, not having seen a minute of action for City this season.
In that sense, Stones was the exception to the rule, but Southgate can’t bank on Kane and Sterling to counter the long-term trend.