Kosovo led after 34 seconds of the Euro 2020 qualifier at St Mary's Stadium on Tuesday, Valon Berisha giving the Three Lions a scare, but they roared back to lead 5-1 at half-time thanks to Sterling's inspirational display.
He levelled the scores with a header and set up Harry Kane to make it 2-1 before Mergim Vojvoda's own goal, Sterling then providing assists for Sancho's two strikes in an action-packed Group A clash.
England lost their focus after the interval with Berisha netting again and Vedat Muriqi converting a penalty - a feat Kane failed to match soon after - to make the final scoreline closer than Sterling's superb showing deserved.
Kosovo were gifted an early opener when Michael Keane's loose pass allowed Fidan Aliti to tee up Berisha for his second international goal since changing allegiance from Norway.
The hosts responded well and drew level in the eighth minute, Keane heading a right-wing Ross Barkley corner back across goal for a leaping Sterling to profit from close range.
Sterling then created England's second, brilliantly turning into space on halfway and feeding Kane for a powerful finish through the legs of Kosovo goalkeeper Arijanet Muric.
What a game so far at St Mary's! pic.twitter.com/pkeLSo084k— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) September 10, 2019
England opened up a four-goal advantage before the break. Vojvoda turned a low Sancho cross into his own net before the Borussia Dortmund winger opened his international account with a quickfire double.
Sloppy play allowed Kosovo to net first after the restart. Declan Rice lost the ball on halfway and Berisha curled home his second of the game, then Harry Maguire's clumsiness enabled Muriqi to reduce the deficit further from the spot.
England should have restored a three-goal cushion but captain Kane saw his penalty pushed away by Muric while the goalkeeper - on Manchester City's books - later deflected a Sterling shot on to the post.
What does it mean? England closing on qualification
Reaching the Euro 2020 finals always looked on the cards for England but they have made light work of their competition in Group A, scoring 19 goals already and winning all four of their games, although defensive weaknesses were exposed here.
Kosovo occupy third spot in the group and have every chance of reaching their first international tournament given the impressive way they carried the fight against their lauded opponents.
Unplayable Sterling at top of his game
Kosovo's open tactics played into England's hands but Sterling made the most of the time and space he was routinely given in the opposition half. On current form, few players in the world are as dangerous as the City star, who it is easy to forget is only 24 years old.
3 - England have conceded three goals in a home game for the first time since February 2012, when a side led by Stuart Pearce were beaten 3-2 by Holland at Wembley. Chaotic. pic.twitter.com/CijZpNmzRo— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 10, 2019
Keane at risk of losing his place
Bernard Challandes' side pressed ferociously from the first whistle and it did not take them long to force an error from Everton defender Keane. With John Stones expected to be fit for England's next fixtures Keane will likely drop out of the team, partly due to his latest mistake.
Key Opta Facts
- England have scored 14 goals in their three home European Championship Qualifiers (W3 D0 L0), scoring more home goals than any other European nation in qualifying so far.
- Kosovo became the first team to score three away goals in a competitive international against England since Croatia in November 2007.
- England have scored five goals in three different matches in 2019 – the first time they have done so that many times in a calendar year since 1960 (also three).
- Valon Berisha's goal after 34 seconds was the first goal scored inside the first minute of an England international since Gareth Southgate scored against South Africa in May 2003.
- England conceded a goal inside the opening minute of an international match for the first time since November 1993, when Davide Gualtieri netted for San Marino.
- Raheem Sterling has been involved in 12 goals in his last eight England international appearances (eight goals, four assists).
England have an away double-header against Czech Republic and Bulgaria next month, while October's international break sees Kosovo travel to Gibraltar and host Montenegro.