Captain and goalscorer Wayne Rooney admitted that England "could have done better" after they narrowly edged out Norway at Wembley.
The 28-year-old scored the only goal in the uninspiring win when he struck from the penalty spot in the 69th minute.
Just 40,181 turned up to watch Roy Hodgson's side in the friendly match - the lowest England crowd at the new Wembley by more than eight thousand.
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Following their disappointing World Cup campaign where they exited at the group stage, Rooney admitted his performance had been lacklustre.
"I thought I could have done better. We all could have done better," Rooney said.
"It's a night, first game after the World Cup and it was important that we got the win tonight, especially going into the game on Monday.
"In the first half we moved quite well but they made it difficult for us and sat back and created a few opprtunities in the first half.
"In the second half we started really sloppy and that was disappointing as we wanted to go out and really take the game to them.
"We got the win in the end and there are a lot of young players in this team and we will learn. They are still learning."
England face Switzerland in a Euro 2016 qualification match on Monday and Hodgson may have to shuffle his pack as Gary Cahill came off late on with an ankle problem.
The brass band behind the away goal and the man on the public address system raised spirits before Rooney led the team out for the first time as full-time skipper, but it did not take long for any enthusiasm to drain from the home supporters.
Per Ciljan Skjelbred brought Jack Wilshere down after he played a clever one-two with Jordan Henderson in the fourth minute.
The supporters were hush with anticipation as Leighton Baines stepped up to strike the ball, but curling effort flew five yards over.
The disappointing effort set the tone for what ended up being a dour first half.
Norway broke up England's tentative attacks by any means. Skjelbred knocked Wilshere off the ball as he approached the box and the Norway captain stopped Leighton Baines in his tracks with a flying elbow.
Sturridge and Sterling were the only lights to brighten up the first period.
Sterling backheeled the ball into Sturridge's path, but the striker's shot was blocked inside the box.
Sturridge then cushioned a 40-yard diagonal pass from Sterling, but Orjan Haskjold Nyland pressured the striker into lobbing over the bar.
Unlike England, Norway managed to register a shot on target, although it was a tame one from Tarik Elyounoussi, who volleyed straight at Joe Hart
England thought they should have had a penalty towards the end of the first half when Havard Nordtveit put in a late tackle on Wilshere, but the referee waved play on.
Then, in the final minute of the half, Hart, carelessly spilled Skjelbred's cross, almost dropping the ball into his own net.
A few dissenting voices were heard at the half-time whistle. If the fans inside the stadium were hoping for an instant improvement after the restart then they were to be disappointed.
The Three Lions were just as slow in their build-up play and they were very flat at the back.
Hart saved a low drive from Mats Daehli and the England goalkeeper managed to deny Joshua King with an acrobatic dive.
Some sloppy defending from Cahill allowed King to race into the box, but he could not convert.
England were thrown a lifeline in the 67th minute when Omar Elabdellaoui slid in late on Sterling and the referee pointed to the spot.
Rooney stepped up and launched the ball past Nyland with his right foot.
The goal released the pressure and England finally started to play with attacking intent.
Welbeck, who came on for Rooney, drew a good save from Norway's goalkeeper.
Fabian Delph and Calum Chambers came on for their debuts and Cahill went off to receive ice to his foot.
The game petered out and those that had remained in the stadium for the final whistle greeted the end with barely audible cheers.