Hundredth cap celebrations do not always go well. England marked Bobby Moore’s centenary by thrashing Scotland 5-0, but Peter Shilton’s was marred by a Marco van Basten hat-trick that sent England crashing out of Euro’88 with a match to spare.
Nearly an hour into the European Championship qualifier at Wembley it looked as if Wayne Rooney’s big night would also be spoiled. Unheralded Slovenia had taken a shock lead, though Jordan Henderson’s own goal, and England looked short of the inspiration required to rescue the occasion.
There has been much debate about Rooney’s place in the Pantheon this week, not all of it flattering, but for much of the last decade he has consistently been the man who makes things happen for England and so it was again.
England 3 Slovenia 1 - player ratings
England 3 Slovenia 1 - player ratings
1/11 Joe Hart
After being almost redundant for the last home game against San Marino and given another quiet night in Estonia, he would have expected a little more work but was barely tested again, except by Henderson’s unstoppable header. Acted as sweeper well whenever he was called into action to do so. 6/10
2/11 Nathaniel Clyne
Happy to get forward as the full-backs need to when England play with a narrow diamond formation, the young Londoner had an acceptable debut with no obvious errors. Less attack-minded after half-time when Sterling went wider. 6
3/11 Phil Jagielka
Less solid than his central defensive partner, losing Novakovic to allow him to head a corner wide in one uncomfortable moment and slipping to let in Kampl for another. As one of the players in the side with England goals to his name, the Evertonian produced one good header for the team’s first effort on target. 5
4/11 Gary Cahill
The Chelsea man is becoming England’s most dependable defender, further improved by his regular Champions League experience. Upset Novakovic with some of his headed challenges and got a kick for his pains. One lax pass led to Jagielka’s booking. 7
5/11 Kieran Gibbs
After a first start for four years against San Marino the Arsenal full-back was given another one unexpectedly soon as stand-in for Leighton Baines. He did fine defensively and had a hand in the third goal without offering Baines’s attacking brio. Booked for a stab at Birsa’s Achilles. 6
6/11 Jordan Henderson
Without a goal in 18 England appearances and would not have wanted to break his duck by scoring at the wrong end. Sitting on the right of the midfield diamond the Liverpool player has been an ever-present in the national side this season without influencing many games. 5
7/11 Jack Wilshere
Unenviably stationed in the centre circle, the worst area of the pitch, for his 25th cap. Got mud on his shirt early on in giving and taking some hefty challenges before playing some neat forward passes. But then he had a quiet second half. 7
8/11 Adam Lallana
Not a natural winger, we know, and almost too eager to drift inside. He delivered ome poor free-kicks and corners which failed to clear the first defender until he put one on Rooney’s head in the second half and the Liverpool man did then help to force Welbeck’s first goal with his own shot. 5
9/11 Raheem Sterling
Not too tired to play this time, although as he discovered against the defensive San Marino he found the middle congested and took until the second half to move wide much more often, when he looked more dangerous. Set up Welbeck nicely for the third goal. Booked. 6
10/11 Danny Welbeck
Put in a poor performance in Estonia last month and having a mixed season for Arsenal, which was reflected here early on. Brought Rooney or Clyne into the game well enough and he worked hard to be rewarded with his two goals later on. 7
11/11 Wayne Rooney
Having received his golden 100th cap from Sir Bobby Charlton, the captain won the penalty cleverly by wriggling through defenders and then converted it with a thump for his fourth goal in the last five England games. Played almost up alongside Welbeck throughout the match and linked well with him in setting up chances for each other. 8
Faced with the ruination of his evening Rooney forced a penalty, and scored it. Within three minutes the game had gone from nil-nil to one-one, but the mood was transformed. Danny Welbeck promptly struck twice in seven minutes as England maintained their 100 per cent Euro 16 qualifying record and ensured Rooney could look back on the evening with pride.
When England’s first centurion, Billy Wright, reached his 100th cap in 1959 he was presented to Harold Macmillan, the then Prime Minister who was known as Supermac long before Malcolm MacDonald pulled on black-and-white stripes.
The current PM, David Cameron, is otherwise engaged in Australia but it is unlikely, given the public standing of modern politicians, that he would have risked following Macmillian’s example. Wright received only a handshake, Rooney was given a gold cap in a glass case presented by Sir Bobby Charlton who, in 1970, became the second man to 100 caps.
If it was a big night for Rooney it was an even bigger one for Nathaniel Clyne who was winning his first cap. When Wright got to 100 Doug Holden made his debut; when Charlton got there Ralph Coates and Brian Kidd won their first. Between them those three won 11 caps, Clyne will hope to do rather better. He made a promising start with Hodgson stating: “he can be delighted with his debut.”
The pitch showed signs of last week’s NFL contest here, not least the remnants of yardage markings and logos. Perhaps it was that which persuaded England to try several Hail Mary passes as they began to attempt to break down a Slovenian defence that sat very deep.
Gradually, and despite Ales Mertelj clattering Adam Lallana and Rooney, England began to look for shorter passing options and the half-chances started to fall. Raheem Sterling, set up by Rooney, dragged a shot wide. Rooney himself volleyed fiercely but inaccurately. Welbeck headed wide after good work by Sterling.
In between Slovenia went close themselves, indeed, closer than England had, when Milivoje Novakovic escaped Jagielka to meet a Andraz Kirm corner but could only glance his header into the side netting. Slovenia also came closest to opening the scoring at the other end, Samir Handanovic having to make a sharp save with his foot when Jasmin Kurtic hit a back-pass too firmly.
Aside from Handanovic, of Internazionale, Srecko Katanec’s men play for second tier European clubs, like Chievo and Partizan Belgrade, or lower, but as Northern Ireland and others have shown this qualifying campaign, moderate players, when in a determined, well-organised unit, can make life difficult for their supposed betters.
Slovenia worked worked hard, defended cleverly and kept their shape. They also sought to rile England, hoping to make their hosts lose their focus. Jack Wilshere, in particular, seemed up for a scrap.
England needed to move the ball quicker, and assess their options better. This was underlined when Rooney broke forward, slipped the ball inside to Welbeck, then ran into good space for the return only to be left furious as Welbeck instead blazed a wild shot over.
That rather summed the first half up for England and there were muted boos at half-time as they headed in for a what was doubtless an firm exhortation from Roy Hodgson to raise their game.
The manager did his bit by shuffling personnel, sending Sterling wide right to stretch Slovenia with his pace, and pushing the quick-footed Lallana behind the strikers. England immediately looked more threatening and, from Rooney’s cross, they finally brought Handanovic into action via Phil Jagielka header.
However, it Slovenia, to the undisguised joy and amazement of their small section of fans, who struck first. Kirm took a free-kick from wide on the left and Henderson, misjudging the flight, headed it over Hart and in.
The goal jolted England into life. More specifically Rooney, determined not to have his celebratory evening wrecked, seized the game. Driving into the box with a dribble that was part-skill, part rolling maul, he was only stopped when Bostjan Cesar clipped his ankles.
Handanovic had saved his last five penalties and got a strong hand to this one, but Rooney had leathered it and would not be denied.
Before England put the tie to bed they nearly gave it away again, Jagielka gifting Kevin Kampl the ball, but Gary Cahill saved his partner with a block.
That was Slovenia’s last chance of an upset. On 65 minutes Lallana, receiving Sterling’s cross and taking two opponents out of the game with a beautiful turn, brought a fine save from Handanovic with a deflected shot.
The ball rebounded to Welbeck whose mis-hit shot deceived everyone to nestle inside the far post. Welbeck then capped a sweeping move from an increasingly confident England. Lallana released Kieran Gibbs who fed Welbeck, the Arsenal striker played a one-two with Sterling then finished with aplomb.
And that, apart from silly bookings for Sterling and Jagielka, both of whom Hodgson then substituted, was that.
England (4-1-2-1-2): Hart; Clyne, Cahill, Jagielka (Smalling, 89), Gibbs; Wilshere; Henderson, Lallana (Milner, 80); Sterling (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 85); Rooney, Welbeck.
Slovenia (4-2-3-1): Handanovic; Bresko, Ilic, Cesar, Struna; Mertelj, Kurtic (Rotman, 75); Birsa (Lazarevic, 63), Kampl, Kirm (Ljubijankic, 78); Novakovic .Reuse content