England manager Roy Hodgson lauded captain Wayne Rooney’s bravery and leadership after the Manchester United striker’s late goal procured a 3-2 victory away to Slovenia in 2016 European Championship qualifying.
It appeared destined to be a day to forget for Rooney, who hoisted two gilt-edged chances over the crossbar and took an arm to the face from home captain Bostjan Cesar during Sunday’s Group E match in Ljubljana.
But with four minutes remaining, he tucked away his 48th international goal to maintain his side’s 100 percent record in the group and draw level with Gary Lineker in the all-time England scoring chart, one behind Bobby Charlton’s record.
“Wayne Rooney’s performance said a lot of things about him as a man,” Hodgson told reporters at Stozice Stadion.
“Just before he took that goal chance, he’d taken a nasty blow from an elbow, which could have decked many a player and could have caused him to lose his discipline.
“He didn’t, because he was immediately up and concentrating on his job and his role in the team. One or two chances had gone begging, but when the chance fell to him, he put it away with aplomb.
“That also goes to show that we can rely on that man. I’d have liked to see him get a hat-trick today (Sunday) so all the talk of the record would be finished, but he’s got plenty of time.”
Lineker congratulated Rooney on Twitter, writing: “Welcome to the 48 club Wayne Rooney.”
Rooney’s strike almost eclipsed the performance of Jack Wilshere, who broke his England scoring duck with a wonderful brace of near-identical goals that gave the visitors control of the game after Milivoje Novakovic had given Slovenia a 37th-minute lead against the run of play.
The Arsenal midfielder’s second goal, in the 73rd minute, was a particular delight, with Jordan Henderson playing a one-two with Andros Townsend and then finding Adam Lallana, whose back-heel set up Wilshere to arrow a shot into the top-left corner from 20 yards.
Hodgson was unable to say if it was the best goal of his three-year England tenure, but he was fulsome in his praise of Wilshere’s display.
“I’m very happy with Jack and the goals he’s scored,” Hodgson said.
“In particular, in the second half, controlling that midfield, was (like) the performances we’ve seen from him for a while now.
“If we can keep him fit and he can get plenty of Premier League matches and international matches, at his young age we’d like to think we’ve got a good player going forward.”
While a bright showing from Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling gave Hodgson further reason to be cheerful, his side’s defending was a source of concern.
Novakovic’s goal stemmed from a loose throw-in by Phil Jones and a misjudged attempt to play offside from Gary Cahill, while Nejc Pecnik easily outjumped Kieran Gibbs to head in Slovenia’s 84th-minute equaliser.
Asked for his thoughts on Jones’s throw-in, Hodgson replied: “Not much.”
Jones made way for Lallana at half-time, obliging Henderson to fill in at right-back, but Hodgson said that it was due to an ankle injury the Manchester United defender had sustained when he landed on Wilshere’s foot, rather than a punitive measure.
Sterling and Fabian Delph will also be assessed after receiving heavy blows, but apart from the injuries, Hodgson was left to reflect on a satisfactory evening that saw England complete a season unbeaten for the first time since 1990-91.
Rooney swept home the winner after Bojan Jokic’s challenge on England substitute Theo Walcott sent the ball straight into his path and Slovenia coach Srecko Katanec expressed frustration at the manner of his side’s undoing.
“It was a mistake you can’t make at junior level, much less here,” he said.
“I’m disappointed by the three goals we conceded, but I’m not surprised as this is the top level of football. Even though we gave 120 percent against England, it still wasn’t enough for a point.”