England 3 Estonia 0: Rooney ends goal drought as England edge closer

Striker on target to help McClaren's men ease past minnows – now they can qualify in Russia
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"Three-nil to the England", for the fifth successive European Championship match, though the destiny of Group E will depend, as it was always going to, on the game against Russia in Moscow on Wednesday. Worryingly, the captain, John Terry, remains doubtful and Ashley Cole will almost certainly be missing after being taken off with an ankle injury.

Others in yellow peril avoideda further card that would have brought a suspension, which was just as well given the tepid nature of England's second-half performance after wrapping the points up in little more than 30 minutes. That took them briefly level with Croatia, who later defeated Israel 1-0. But defeat by Russia will render all the recent improvements in vain.

Gareth Barry, named man of the match, again did enough to keep his place and was involved in all three goals, which came from Shaun Wright-Phillips, Wayne Rooney and the unfortunate Estonian midfielder Taavi Rahn. Steve McClaren admitted: "Our performance could have been better in the second half. But we beat Russia 3-0 a few weeks ago and there's great belief and confidence in our dressing-room."

England's task was to open up a heavily fortified defence, preferably with an early goal, so three before half-time constituted a bonus. Each, significantly, came from the flanks, Wright-Phillips linking up with Micah Richards to score the first before deliveries from the Cole-men, Joe and Ashley on the left, effectively secured the points.

All three were hard on Mart Poom, the understandably lugubrious 35-year-old goal-keeper, now with Watford, who had been passed fit enough to play his 116th international. Both Andres Oper and Vladimir Vos-koboinikov, the leading scorers – a strictly relative term for Eston-ian football – were out injured, and Martin Reim, Europe'smost capped player with 154 appearances, was a substitute.

So was Chelsea's Frank Lampard, McClaren venturing where Sven Goran Eriksson would never have done by leaving out one of the apparent untouchables and leaving Barry where he deserved to be, alongside Steven Gerrard in midfield. The predicted England line-up meant that there were therefore only four starters from the XI that won 3-0 in Tallinn last June, namely Paul Robinson, Gerrard, Joe Cole and Michael Owen. The fact that Estonia kept seven of the side that started in June was more a reflection of their lack of resources than confidence in the selection of the previous coach.

The appropriately named Jelle Goes did as his surname suggests and departed after that game, at which point Estonia had not scored a goal in any of their seven group matches. Under Goes's successor, Viggo Jensen, they managed to break that duck in defeating the might of And-orra 2-1 (with a winning goal in the 90th minute) then got a 1-1 draw in Macedonia. What they do not do, normally, is suffer humiliatingly large defeats, playing mostly to keep the score down. That was always the objective once they had been hit by two goals in a minute to follow the early opener, though they improved in the second half.

Owen might have scored in the first 15 seconds had he not drifted offside, but there was not long to wait. Although Richards required sustained treatment for a clash of heads, he was soon back in the fray and making a goal in the 11th minute. Barry pounced eagerly on to a header out of defence and supplied Wright-Phillips, who exchanged passes with Richards before shooting right-footed through Poom's legs. Rooney's audacious chip almost caught the goal-keeper out before the double blow just after the half-hour. Each time Barry was again instrumental in spreading the ball out wide. He sent Joe Cole down the left for a low cut-back on his left foot that Rooney drove in, the deflection off Raio Piiroja wrong-footing Poom. The keeper was equally helpless a minute later when Barry found Ashley Cole out wide for a cross that Taavi Rahn, the defensive midfielder, headed firmly into his own net from the edge of the penalty area.

The comfortable lead enabled Rio Ferdinand, one of the players vulnerable to a suspension, to be taken off at the interval. Joleon Lescott, who has impressed at centre-half and left-back for Everton this season, came on to replace Ferdinand for his international debut, but in the first attack he faced, neither he nor Cole dealt with a cross from the left. Tarmo Kink failed to make contact with the ball but did so with Cole, who had to be taken off on a stretcher. "You really got me," he might have said to Kink on his exit. McClaren's assistant, Terry Venables, and John Terry hurried to the dressing room to discover the seriousness of the injury.

Phil Neville came on to win his 59th cap in place of Cole, though Reading's Nicky Shorey, who was not among yesterday's substitutes, will presumably be ahead of him in the pecking order for the left-back position in Moscow.

In fact, Lescott soon switched there, with Neville going to right-back in an Everton full-back partnership and the versatile Richards moving into the centre. Soon there was an appearance for Lampard too, greeted by a shocking round of boos. Owen was taken off, presumably to save him for Wednesday, which left a crowded central-midfield and a rough 4-3-3 formation with Rooney down the middle.

The changes did nothing for England's rhythm even against such moderate opposition, and unexpectedly there was as much incident around the home team's goal as Estonia's in the second half. Robinson had been forced to hold one shot in the first half. In the second he needed two grabs at a drive by Ragnar Klavan, "the Estonian Beckham" Joel Lindpere also hit a good shot at him, Klavan sent a wild shot over the bar and Campbell almost headed an own goal.

In contrast, Poom did not have a save to make, Owen running offside again on the one occasion he beat him and Joe Cole's late shot drifting wide. With 10 minutes to play, home fans were already streaming away, presumably to find a TV for the rugby.

Man for man marking

5 Paul Robinson Boosted by Steve McClaren's confidence vote and underemployed for most of the time, his first real save was a nervous one but the second was much more impressive and authoritative. So, fair to say, the jury's still out.

7 Micah Richards A youngster who grows more impressive with every outing. His ongoing excellence at right-back threatens the future hopes of Gary Neville, and he was just as solid when moving to the centre of defence. Brightest moment: the link-up withWright-Phillips for the opening goal.

6 Rio Ferdinand With the threat of a yellow card keeping him out of Wednesday's game in Moscow, he was removed at half-time having hardly broken sweat. Got in one timely boot in a rare Estonian threat, but spent much of his time on upfield forays in search of a goal.

6 Sol Campbell Starting for the first time since the 2006 World Cup, he could not have enjoyed a less demanding time in winning his 70th cap. At times he could have brought along an armchair, though he was busier later as the most experienced in a makeshift defence.

7 Ashley Cole Due to be substituted because of the yellow-card threat, he was instead taken off on a stretcher, having damaged an ankle after a rampant first half down the left. Most memorable was a searching ball that produced the own goal.

7 Shaun Wright-Phillips Lively as ever, though not as effective as in recent games, he provided the boost of an early goal, courtesy of that burgeoning right-side link with Richards. Will be grateful that his shot attracted a Mart Poom boob.

7 Steven Gerrard Once more benefiting from the midfield presence of Gareth Barry, and possibly the authority of the captain's armband, he worked with diligence to set free his front-runners and got forward with the frequency which will be vital against Russia on Wednesday.

8 Gareth Barry Deservedly handed the official man-of-the-match award for another smooth display, he always looked comfortable, and if he was permitted the space he might not get against better opposition, he certainly made good use of it.

5 Joe Cole His fine pass to set up the second goal lifted an average showing. Too frequently the pace of England's attacks was slowed by his tendency to turn inside from his position on the left on to that favoured right foot. He missed a fine chance in added time.

7 Michael Owen Although he failed to add to his total of 40 goals, his very presence lends extra threat, as was obvious after his second-half substitution. Offside decisions, one highly debatable, were paramountin keeping him frustrated andultimately scoreless.

8 Wayne Rooney Having one of his eye-catching days, from the moment a glorious chip missed by inches, he also impressed with his industry and zeal, which for once was the right side of excessive. Doubts about his ability to link with Owen were answered, and his goal, though deflected, was deserved.

Substitutes

6 Joleon Lescott A solid debut, first at centre-half and then at left-back, he demonstrated the sort of versatility that will be so important to England's squad in the future.

6 Phil Neville Hardly the flashiest of individuals, he offered a steady 40 minutes at right-back, normally occupied by brother Gary. "Dependable" is probably his career summary.

5 Frank Lampard Having had to watch in understandable frustration from the bench, he hardly had enough time to make an impression on a game already won. But why is he always booed at Wembley?

Ronald Atkin

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