The first two goals of Jack Wilshere’s England career, and the 48th of Wayne Rooney’s helped Roy Hodgson’s men seal a 3-2 win against Slovenia, and take a step closer to qualifying for next year’s European Championships.
Hodgson had made three changes to the side that started the goalless draw with the Republic of Ireland last weekend. Andros Townsend, Fabian Delph, and Kieran Gibbs came in for Adam Lallana, James Milner, and Ryan Bertrand respectively.
After a frenetic start, it was Raheem Sterling who had the first chance. An excellent pass from Wayne Rooney allowed the Liverpool winger to get behind the Slovenian defence. However, he lifted his effort too much as he tried to clear Inter Milan’s Samir Handanovic in goal, and the ball agonisingly went over the bar.
And the same two players linked up ten minutes later. The captain played another bisecting pass into Sterling’s path. Every time however, the 20-year-old went to shoot, he found a defender in his path. When he had jinked around the opposition enough times, he managed to get a shot away, only for it to be deflected wide.
Rooney would register England’s first shot on target after 20 minutes, when Handanovic had to make a smart save to deny the skipper, after the Manchester United man rifled an effort that looked destined for the bottom corner.
As the first-half wore on, the home side very much settled into the game, and became wise to England’s approach of packing the midfield before distributing to the onrushing wide men. Hodgson’s men created very little of note as the break approached, apart from a very speculative effort from Townsend from around 35 yards. While Handanovic spilled it, there was little danger of it finding the net.
Then the stadium was rocked as the home side opened the scoring eight minutes before the break. A terrible attempt at an offside trap saw Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill left behind by 36-year-old Milivoje Novakovic, and despite Joe Hart’s attempt to close him down, the Nagoya Grampus striker stroked the ball which trickled across the line. After getting away with a lacklustre defensive display against Ireland’s front two of Daryl Murphy and David McGoldrick, it appeared that their luck had run out.
Hodgson’s intentions were made clear after the break, when he was forced to bring makeshift right-back Phil Jones off. Rather than call upon Nathaniel Clyne, he brought Lallana on, and sent Jordan Henderson to right-back.
With Lallana’s arrival came another energetic start to the half. And it is was the former Southampton man that created the opening that led to England’s equaliser. His intricate work in the box saw the ball fall to the feet of Jack Wilshere, who fired a fantastic strike into the top corner. And while Handanovic appeared to get a hand to the ball, he could do nothing to keep it out.
But, while his first goal was impressive, it was nothing compared to his second strike. A delicious touch from Adam Lallana played the ball into Wilshere’s path some 35 yards from goal. The Arsenal man capitalised on the uneven surface to practically volley the ball into the same corner that his first shot had found.
However, if England thought that they had overcome their opponents, they were terribly mistaken as former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Nejc Pecnik leapt higher than Kieran Gibbs to power a great header past Joe Hart. Suddenly, the upset was back on the cards.
But, parity was only restored for three minutes as Rooney – who had missed several glorious chances in the second half – took advantage of a Slovenian challenge that had inadvertently fallen into the Manchester United man’s path on the edge of the box. He managed to fool Handanovic and tuck home the opportunity. The relief on Roy Hodgson’s face told the true story of the England win.
Nevertheless, with four qualifiers still to play – one against San Marino – it appears that England’s place at Euro 2016 is almost assured.
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