Jermain Defoe scored his first England goal since 2013 and Jamie Vardy fired home also as England maintained their lead at the top of Group F, and remain on course for Russia in 15 months’ time, after a 2-0 win over Lithuania at Wembley.
the last time Defoe was on the score sheet for the Three Lions, against San Marino, his club career at Tottenham was eroding away with the instinctive finisher making the long trip to the Great White North, Canada, and his international career looked to be on ice too with Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Harry Kane, to name a few, all preferred in the Roy Hodgson pecking order.
Defoe led out England mascot, admire and friend Bradley Lowery before leading the England line. The latter proved to be of much frustration as the Lithuania defence sat as deep as the could.
The visitors frustrated the hosts with banks of four and five often deployed to stifle Gareth Southgate’s attacking line-up. And while England were dominant they almost came undone just before the half time interval when Vykintas Silvka looped an innocent enough looking header over Joe Hart, a goalkeeper desperate to avoid anymore headlines questioning his decision making, and required the help of John Stones to save his blushes.
England were rarely threatened, more gently reminded, by their Eastern European opposition when they dared to venture out of their own half.
England probed for the first whistle with accurate passes looking to find any cracks in the opposition back line and it took until the 21st minute for them to finally break the deadlock. Raheem Sterling’s lightning quick dip of the shoulder and charge into the penalty area gave the Manchester City winger plenty of time to side-foot a cross just in front on the penalty spot where Defoe was waiting to ponce. The Sunderland striker cooly slotted past Ernestas Setkus in the Lithuania goal. A trademark finish that has seen him register 14 goals at club level this season, and over 150 Premier League goals.
The man of the hour was replaced on the hour, by Vardy, having completed his work in giving Southgate’s side the advantage. His biggest fan Bradley offering up the biggest applause from the stands.
Marcus Rashford was also introduced to proceedings and ran at the robust visitors with great power while Kyle Walker raided up and down the right side providing width at will as England continued to pepper the Lithuania box with Vardy, Dele Alli and Eric Dier spurning chances to extend the already convincing lead.
England continued to boss possession with Sterling having a glorious chance to double the lead just after half time but were reduced to rather speculative efforts from there on with the yellow Lithuanian wall bending but never breaking.
Their patience was rewarded as Vardy calmed tucked away the ball after a delicious touch from Adam Lallana. The duo almost linked up again with Lallana’s cross finding the Leicester forward who this time found his effort smothered by scrambling visiting defenders.
England got the result that they desired but have often travelled this road before in qualification, looking slick and sharp against far superior opposition – Iceland aside – before stagnating against much more complete opposition. However, Southgate’s tactical switch against Germany, followed up by an optimistic outing against the World Cup holders, before reverting to a 4-5-1 approach at Wembley.
Whether this England will be any different to the squads that have gone by and faded away remain to be seen but we were offered yet another glimpse of optimism England fans have become so accustomed to seeing down the years.