Deadly Defoe plays patience game before striking out

England 2 Slovenia 1: In-form forward is overlooked again for starting role but makes point with fifth England goal in three games
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The Independent Football

As a dress rehearsal it was satisfactory rather than exhilarating, although Wednesday night's production, with Croatia stepping in for yesterday's understudies from Slovenia, is the one that matters. The opposition had been chosen for their stylistic similarities to Slaven Bilic's team, but he is likely to have at his disposal an attacking player or two with a sharper edge than their former Yugoslav countrymen. Even so, the visitors still angered Fabio Capello with a late goal, denying England one of their rare clean sheets.

What the manager would certainly appreciate this week is some of the luck his side enjoyed for the opening goal here, courtesy of a Swede named Eriksson. This one was Jonas, the referee who awarded them a first-half penalty after Wayne Rooney fouled the opposing centre-half, who was so badly injured he took no further part in the game.

Frank Lampard tucked it away for a lead that England barely deserved at that point. Jermain Defoe, full of goals at present, came on in the second half to add another, his eighth under Capello, although he may still not have done enough to displace Emile Heskey in the game on Wednesday that offers England a ticket to the World Cup finals next summer.

Defoe's Tottenham colleague Aaron Lennon, however, will be a contender to start instead of the less impressive Shaun Wright-Phillips. Robert Green, with little to do, should stay ahead of Ben Foster in goal and the rest of the side is likely to remain as it was at the start yesterday.

Certainly Joleon Lescott, burdened with the tag of a £24m defender, did himself no favours as that late goal went in. Nor did Glen Johnson, who had failed to cut out the cross and still has much improvement to make in his defensive work, though Capello expressed satisfaction with him.

"I was happy," the manager said of the overall performance. "I studied individual players and learnt a lot. Friendly games are really important. But the concentration was not good in the last four or five minutes. We played too slow, played long ball, not a style I like." Just as well, then, that England were two goals to the good by then, apparently cruising; which may have been the problem.

Capello had employed his favourite 4-2-3-1 formation that with only small variations is very much à la mode the world over at present. The significant point was that Heskey rather than Defoe was chosen as the leading striker. Defoe had been touted all week as the man for the role, but leaks, like so much else, are not what they used to be in the England set-up these days. He had to wait his turn until the second half, despite having now scored almost as many goals (five) in his last three internationals as Heskey has in 54.

Heskey won his headers, as he does, and linked well with Rooney, without ever looking likely to add to his poor scoring record. Indeed, until the gift of the penalty, Slovenia created the better opportunities. They were denied one early possibility when Green clearly handled outside the penalty area coming out to collect a through ball, which the referee's assistant failed to spot. Then Zlatko Dedic sent his striking partner Milivoje Novakovic in between England's two centre-halves and round the goalkeeper; he nobly stayed on his feet when he might have gone down but clipped the ball over the bar from an angle.

At last, midway through the first half, came the threat of a home goal. Heskey flicked on a long clearance for Rooney, who appeared to handle it before cutting inside two defenders and hitting a fierce shot that was deflected for a corner. Steven Gerrard took it and found the head of John Terry, thrusting forward to send the ball against the crossbar.

If Rooney was lucky with the official's decision on that occasion, it was nothing to the fortune bestowed on him a few minutes later.

As Gerrard chipped in from the left, the Manchester United striker firstly held Bostjan Cesar's shirt, then banged into him, causing the defender to turn his ankle. Insult was added to the centre-half's injury twice over with both a yellow card and a penalty, which Lampard drove smartly into the bottom corner of the net.

Not surprisingly, Slovenia looked demoralised for a long time thereafter. Rooney hit a post after Matthew Upson flicked on a corner, then crossed for Heskey to put a feeble header wide. The four promised half-time changes brought on Lennon, James Milner, Michael Carrick and Defoe.

The latter, in excellent early-season form for Tottenham and preferred as Heskey's replacement to his club-mate Peter Crouch, was on the end of the only chance in the opening quarter of an hour of the second half. He met Johnson's low cross at the near post but earned nothing more than a corner. Just after the hour, however, he produced the finish of a striker bubbling with confidence, first finding another Spurs player, Lennon, with a square pass, then taking the return and pulling it low across the goal-keeper from 20 yards.

Further changes followed, with Lescott and Carlton Cole arriving. Cole replaced Rooney, who had earlier been denied a goal, significantly set up for him by the direct running of Lennon but cleared off the line by the substitute Matej Mavricrozic.

Upson, who is expected to stay in the team on Wednesday in Rio Ferdinand's continued absence, was doubtless happy to be sitting in the dug-out for the last 20 minutes, as Slovenia threatened from two good crosses into the middle.

Aleksandar Radosavljevic sent the first one wide and neither Terry nor Lescott was close enough again as the substitute Zlatan Ljubijankic headed in the second. "I think we will play well against Croatia," Capello promised. They will need to, even if a draw could conceivably be sufficient on the night.

Man for man marking, by Geoff Brown

Rob Green 6/10

After the first 15 minutes, the West Ham keeper was rarely tested. In that time, however, he handled outside the area, an offence not spotted. One confident punch from a free-kick in the second half showed growing assurance.

Glen Johnson 6/10

Revealed all the attacking verve expected of him but again looked defensively suspect, as three times in the opening exchanges was out of position or outwitted as Andraz Kirm made inroads from Slovenia's left side.

Matthew Upson 7/10

In for Rio Ferdinand as third-choice centre-back and had a solid match and was only once seriously exposed by neat passing which cut through England's centre. Steady.

John Terry 7/10

With Slovenia deploying a lone striker, Cologne's Milivoje Novakovic, the captain was able to pick off most of their attacks, but the area between him and Johnson looked vulnerable. A threat at England corners, heading one against the Slovenian bar.

Ashley Cole 8/10

The left-back brought vibrant club form to the international stage and was an effective auxiliary forward on several occasions, crossing dangerously and accurately. With Upson and Gerrard, kept England's left flank shut tight.

Gareth Barry 6/10

Did not repeat the horrible mistake that gave Holland a goal in the last friendly, and was a quietly effective screen in front of the back four. Less positive as an attacking force than usual.

Frank Lampard 7/10

Strong in central midfield despite the attentions of West Brom's Robert Koren, and tucked away the England penalty with aplomb. Other deadball situations, notably corner kicks, always looked likely to produce a chance. Rested at half time.

Shaun Wright-Phillips 5/10

Given the first 45 minutes in the well-subscribed right-wing berth, and started very brightly but, and you might well have read this before, faded out of the game well before he was replaced at the half-time break.

Steven Gerrard 7/10

A slow start at club level, but appeared to have the appetite for this contest and gradually worked up to full steam, despite taking an early knock. His cross won the soft penalty, and he fired wide from an area that, last season, might have brought a goal.

Wayne Rooney 8/10

Looked lively throughout his 80 minutes and made the first decisive impact when he tussled with Bostjan Cesar to win a very fortuitous penalty for the Slovenian's slight tug. Hit the post from four yards, had an effort cleared off the line when he should have scored, and put fine cross on to Heskey's head, which the striker sent wide.

Emile Heskey 5/10

His partnership with Rooney and work as a target man were again in evidence, but never looked like producing a goal. His place must be in doubt.


Jermain Defoe On for Heskey. Just after the hour, declined a one-two with Lennon to fire in his now customary goal after leaving the bench.

James Milner Replaced Gerrard, adequate without catching the eye.

Aaron Lennon Took over on the right flank, looked a better option than Wright-Phillips.

Michael Carrick On for Lampard at half-time, not a notable performance.

Joleon Lescott On for Upson, allowed Slovenian to get across him to score.

Carlton Cole On for Rooney for final 10 minutes.

Attendance: 67,232

Referee: Jonas Eriksson

Man of the match: Rooney

Match rating: 6/10