Wayne Rooney helped England survive a scare against Slovenia on his 100th international appearance as they came from behind to make it four wins from four in the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.
Rooney was presented with a golden cap by England and Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton before kick-off in honour of his landmark but underdogs Slovenia threatened to spoil the celebrations when Jordan Henderson’s own goal gave them the lead just before the hour.
England’s captain quickly restored order with his 44th goal for his country from the penalty spot, putting him joint-third with Jimmy Greaves in the all-time standings and moving him to within five of Charlton’s record.
With Slovenia’s resistance finally broken, Danny Welbeck struck twice to bring his tally to an impressive five goals in qualifying.
The Wembley surface was the subject of much debate after areas were churned up in the NFL game between Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys last Sunday.
Conditions were not perfect, but this was no excuse for a dire first-half display from England.
The eventful second half was a far cry from a dreadful opening 45 minutes, which was devoid of action and flouted its billing as entertainment in front of a crowd of more than 82,000.
Former England midfielder Chris Waddle:
|“It’s not about two years’ time, it’s about now. At the minute, this group is very weak and England just have to turn up to get results. We keep playing this diamond which doesn’t work. We’ve got people with pace out wide, use it. Don’t put them in the middle of the park where it’s congested.”
England’s supporters gave 29-year-old Rooney a warm ovation as he was presented with his cap accompanied by his sons Kai and Klay – but it was all downhill in the first half.
Manager Roy Hodgson will be delighted his side raised their game after the break, stung into action by Slovenia’s goal, the first they have conceded so far in the qualifiers.
Rooney laid the foundations before Welbeck once more proved his importance as he followed his two goals against Switzerland and one against San Marino with another double here.
Once again England collected three points without truly impressing, the trend emerging from Group E, which they will surely move through untroubled to France in 2016.
And Hodgson, with another competitive victory secured, can now perhaps experiment in Tuesday’s friendly against Scotland at Celtic Park.
The first half was instantly forgettable, and a smattering of jeers greeted the half-time whistle.
Former England international Danny Mills:
|“Against Scotland on Tuesday, I would play an experimental team. It is a friendly. Play Ross Barkley and Saido Berahino. Give them an opportunity. Until you throw them into a situation, you don’t know. It will be a vicious atmosphere and it will be a test. Maybe leave a couple of experienced players in but make wholesale changes and give people a chance.”
England began the second with more attacking intent – they could hardly have had less – but were stunned when Slovenia took the lead after 57 minutes as Henderson glanced a perfect header high beyond Hart from Milivoje Novakovic’s free-kick.
The hosts needed a quick response and Rooney helped them deliver it, first winning the penalty when he was clearly tripped by Bostjan Cesar then dispatching it powerfully past Slovenia goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, who got a touch but could not keep the ball out.
In those few minutes the momentum swung in England’s favour, and they were soon ahead when Welbeck’s scuffed finish beat Handanovic after the goalkeeper had turned away Adam Lallana’s deflected cross.
And to emphasise the point, Welbeck underlined his growing stature as a striker – and his importance to Hodgson – with the third, playing a neat interchange with Raheem Sterling before steering in a composed angled finish.