Super-sub Defoe secures win for England
England 2 Slovenia 1
Super-sub Jermain Defoe torpedoed Slovenia at Wembley this evening as England warmed up for Wednesday's vital World Cup qualifier with Croatia with a worryingly difficult win.
Defoe said earlier this week he would be content to make an impact from the bench if Fabio Capello thought that was where he could do most damage.
And yet again, the Spurs forward immediately made an impact after replacing Emile Heskey, driving home his fifth goal in the last three internationals, all of which he has started among the substitutes.
Now Capello must decide whether to leave things as they are, or elevate Defoe into his starting line-up at Wembley next week, when the Three Lions know victory will book their place at South Africa 2010.
In fact, Capello has quite a lot of thinking to do. Robert Green suffered a couple of early problems and £22million defender Joleon Lescott allowed Zlatan Ljubijankic to escape his clutches near the end to bring Slovenia back into a game in which England enjoyed dominant spells without giving the impression of being in control.
In addition, Wayne Rooney failed to convert three fine chances to score in front of England's Ashes-winning heroes, having one shot blocked, another hit a post and a third booted off the line.
He could claim an assist for England's opener though as he was the man dragged down in the box to allow Frank Lampard to drive home the penalty.
As Slovenia were hand-picked by Capello as opponents who most mirror Croatia in both approach and style, the amount of time he spent at the edge of his technical area must be a concern.
Too often the visitors' pacy forwards were able to run at exposed England defenders, who in turn left Green vulnerable.
The England keeper may have been making his fourth consecutive start but in international terms he is a rookie.
Much like David James in his 'Calamity' era, Green is prone to rushes of blood and if referee Jonas Eriksson had spotted a deliberate handball outside the area, England might have been playing with 10 men for 88 minutes.
If that wasn't enough, Green then came racing out of his goal to slide at the feet of Milivoje Novakovic after the English rearguard had been pierced. Thankfully, Novakovic chose to stay on his feet - and eventually curl a shot over - rather than dangle out a leg and wait for the contact.
Capello's agitation was obvious. Thankfully, the Three Lions stirred before their manager reached for his hairdryer.
That Rooney was at the centre of England's revival did not come as a surprise.
The Manchester United striker had already glanced a near-post header wide from Glen Johnson's cross when he cut inside Miso Brecko and Cesar, then opened up his angle for a shot that would have tested the Slovenian goal if Cesar had not recovered his ground.
Terry thundered a header against the bar as a wave of confidence went coursing through English veins.
Still, it needed the assistance of Eriksson for England to get their goal.
It did seem Rooney was beating the ground more in frustration than expectation when he was sent tumbling by Cesar as the pair tussled to reach Steven Gerrard's cross.
But Eriksson was well disposed to England and had spotted the shirt-pulling that preceded it. Lampard drove home the spot-kick.
Rooney should really have scored himself on England's next decent attack when Matthew Upson stooped low to flick on Lampard's corner.
Most of the goal was gaping as Rooney took aim. But he could only strike the outside of a post.
In contrast to his fellow Merseysider, Gerrard had been slightly subdued. He almost produced a moment of pure class before the break through.
After collecting Gareth Barry's pass, Gerrard advanced on the Slovenian goal and let fly with a curling shot that nearly scraped the paint off a post so close did it come to going in.
As promised, Capello made four changes at the interval, which led to a rather disjointed opening to the second period.
But within 18 minutes of Defoe's arrival, he had taken his tally to five in what constitutes three second-half substitute appearances.
Fellow new arrival Aaron Lennon returned a pass to his Tottenham team-mate. Defoe still had plenty to do but found a shot which sliced through a gaggle of Slovenian defenders and ended up in the bottom corner.
For Rooney though, there was no end to the frustration as the lively Lennon darted into the box and cut a cross back the forward would normally have buried.
Instead he found the only man who could keep it out and Matej Mavricrozic bundled off the line.
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