Belfast Telegraph

Slovenia 0-0 England: Hart-stopping moment earns Southgate a fortunate point

By Mark Ogden

Gareth Southgate admitted England owed goalkeeper Joe Hart for the point which keeps the team top of their World Cup qualification group following a scoreless draw against Slovenia in Ljubljana.

Hart, allowed to leave Manchester City on loan to Torino by Pep Guardiola earlier this season, produced three outstanding saves against Srecko Katanec's team, including a second half stop which saw him push the ball onto the bar and claw it away in the same movement.

England's point, combined with Scotland's 3-0 defeat in Slovakia, ensured that interim manager Southgate can take his players into next month's Wembley clash against the Scots with a two-point lead at the top of Group F.

But Southgate insisted that Hart's performance was crucial as England extended their unbeaten qualification record to seven years.

"We owe our goalkeeper really for getting a point," Southgate said. "He was fantastic.

"He's at his best when he's calm and composed, it's something we've discussed and this week his manner has been very calm.

"He was at his best tonight. It was a brilliant save, we didn't start either half well and it's an outstanding save that gets us a point."

Hart crashed into the post when making his eye-catching save early in the second half. And the goalkeeper admits he will not know the extent of the damage caused until the morning.

"My body is in pieces," Hart said. "I don't know what happened for the save, but I landed on the frame of the goal. I don't think I'll be able to get up in the morning.

"It was my best game for a while. I was asked to do quite a bit, but that was down to a few errors by us.

"It is a difficult result for us tonight but it was an interesting game and we take 0-0."

With Wayne Rooney starting the game on the bench - the captain was introduced as a 73rd minute substitute - England struggled to carve open the Slovenians' resolute defensive efforts.

But Southgate insisted that the point must be viewed as a point gained in the wake of the upheaval of Sam Allardyce's departure as manager.

"I can't thank the players and support team enough for the backing I have had," he said. "We wanted six points but we have taken over a mess and had to steady the ship. We are on track.

"The overall objective is to qualify so, long term, that could be an important point.

"Everyone can see we could be better, but their chances came from our mistakes or set-pieces.

"Would I have been happy with a point before the game? No, but it's a very important point in the context of qualifying from the group."

Southgate urged Jesse Lingard to learn quickly after the midfielder was booked for a late clash with a Slovenian opponent.

"I'm told he (Lingard) reacted to someone raising their hands at Marcus Rashford," Southgate said. "That's something he's got to cut out."

Slovena: Oblak, Struna, Samardzic, Cesar (Mevlja, 68 mins), Jokic, Kurtic, Krhin (Omladic, 84 mins), Birsa (Kronaveter, 59 mins), Verbic, Ilicic, Bezjak. Unused subs: Belec, Skubic, Jovic, Crnic, Novakovic, Trajkovski, Zajc, Pihler, Koprivec.

England: Hart, Walker, Cahill, Stones, Rose, Henderson, Dier, Alli (Rooney, 73 mins), Walcott (Townsend, 62 mins), Sturridge (Rashford, 82 mins), Lingard. Unused subs: Forster, Smalling, Gibbs, Antonio, Keane, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Vardy, Pickford.

Referee: Deniz Aytekin (Germany)

Man of the match: Joe Hart

Match rating: 5/10

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