Belfast Telegraph

Times are a-changing for Hodgson's England

Slovenia 2 England 3

By Sam Wallace

Next up at the Stozice Stadium in Ljubljana is Bob Dylan who, like the England team, plays to sell-out crowds who wish he was as good as he was in the 1960s. Every so often, however, Roy Hodgson's team produce a performance that make you wonder if things have changed.

This was one of them, a great game that for all the errors and the vulnerabilities of England showcased something they have lacked in the past, especially away from home. It was that cussedness to come back into the game, first through two brilliant goals from Jack Wilshere and then a winner from Wayne Rooney after Slovenia grabbed an equaliser to take the game to 2-2.

This was only the team ranked 48th in the world but they still served up a decent challenge for England in their noisy national stadium with a physical, uncompromising approach. Wilshere has played just as well for England in the past, Switzerland in June 2011, but what stood out this time were his two goals - his first for England and a part of his game that has been lacking in the past.

For Rooney there was an afternoon of frustration and a Slovenian elbow to the head courtesy of opposing captain Bostjan Cesar before he ran onto a through ball from substitute Theo Walcott and slipped a shot past Samir Handanovic.

He is a goal behind that monumental 45-year record of Sir Bobby Charlton's, the 49 goals for England and when it falls it will be a stupendous achievement, whatever the caveats about Rooney's lack of success in tournaments.

This was one of those afternoons when Hodgson's team seemed to find a spirit that has eluded them in the past. There was a comeback, then a twist in the plot when Slovenia scored a late equaliser and finally an England winner. There was Phil Jones at right-back. There was Jordan Henderson at right-back. But in the end it was the will-to-win of England that prevailed.

It is the sixth straight victory in qualification for Hodgson's team and they are unbeaten in a season for the first time since 1990-1991. That was under Graham Taylor, of course, so there are no guarantees that it will end happily but Hodgson has got it right since the World Cup finals.

Having dominated the first half, then fallen behind to a goal from Milivoje Novakovic and missed so many chances of their own you wondered whether the timing of this qualifier, marooned long after the end of the season, was one game too far.

Slovenia's first goal started with a bad throw from Jones to cede possession. Chris Smalling and Kieran Gibbs left space between them and from Novakovic to Josip Ilicic and then back again, they were split open by a lovely through-ball from the latter. Novakovic kept his head to roll the ball past Joe Hart.

The equaliser came before the hour when the busy Lallana got on the end of a cross from Sterling and managed to discomfort the Slovenia defence enough that Cesar, one of the two centre-halves, cleared the ball straight to the feet of Wilshere on the edge of the box. He drilled it in past Handanovic with his first touch.

It was Wilshere to the rescue again, and an even better second goal that was made out on the right by Henderson and Lallana.

When the latter laid the ball off to Wilshere he struck a left-foot shot past Handanovic.

Slovenia hit back with substitute Nejc Pecnik out-jumping Gibbs to score with a header. It fell to Rooney to have the final say, in the last game of the season, and this time he delivered.

Belfast Telegraph