Roy Hodgson saluted Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere last night after they fired England to a thrilling 3-2 Euro 2016 qualifying win over Slovenia.
After the previous week’s dull goalless draw against the Republic of Ireland, England answered their critics with a breathtaking victory in Ljubljana.
The triumph, which cements England’s comprehensive lead at the top of their Euro 2016 qualifying group, meant the Three Lions ended the season unbeaten for the first time in 24 years.
Wilshere’s first two goals – in response to Milivoje Novakovic’s opener – put England ahead for the first time, but former Sheffield Wednesday striker Nejc Pecnik stepped off the bench to score what he thought was an equaliser six minutes from time.
But just two minutes later, shortly after receiving an elbow in the face from Bostjan Cesar, Rooney kept his nerve to capitalise on a mis-timed tackle from Bojan Jokic and slide the ball past Samir Handanovic.
The winning goal put Rooney just one goal shy of Sir Bobby Charlton’s 49-goal record and his manager could not have been happier for him.
“Wayne Rooney’s performance says a lot of things about him as a man,” the England manager said of his captain.
“Just before he took that chance he took a nasty blow from an elbow, which could have decked many a player and led to him losing his discipline. It didn’t and he got up. He had one or two chances that had gone begging, but when the ball fell to him he still stuck it away with aplomb.
“We can rely on that man. I’d have liked him to get a hat-trick so all the talk of the record would be finished, but he has plenty of time.”
Rooney, who ended the season with 22 goals, said: ‘’It’s great to score the winner and it was a great team performance.”
Rooney took his strike well, but the best goals of the evening belonged to Jack Wilshere.
It has taken five years for Wilshere to break his duck with England, but on this evidence it was worth the wait.
Wilshere’s first was a fierce arrow into the far corner after a poor clearance.
The second was the pick of the pair.
Henderson played the ball into Adam Lallana, who flicked the ball into Wilshere’s path and he let fly with a fierce drive into the top right-hand corner.
“His whole performance was quality,” Hodgson said of the Arsenal midfielder.
When asked if it was the best goal he had seen in his three-year tenure as England boss, Hodgson said: “It’s always the last one which excites me the most.
“I’d have to have all the goals put before me (to make a decision)
“I remember Andy Carroll’s bullet header (in Euro 2012), but I’m very happy with Jack, the goals he’s scored and his performance.
“In the second half, he was controlling that midfield, it was a performance we’ve seen from him for a while now.”
England have won eight and drawn two since the World Cup.
The fact that they have played weak opposition undermines the strength of that statistic, and this performance was not perfect either.
Phil Jones, who went off at half-time with an ankle injury, gifted Slovenia possession in the build-up to their first goal with a poor throw.
Also in the first half, England should have scored at least two goals.
But, it was a major improvement on the previous Sunday’s soulless 0-0 draw in Dublin with the Republic.
“The emotions for 30 minutes were quite good,” said Hodgson, who moved Jordan Henderson to right-back after introducing Lallana at the break.
“I didn’t think much of the throw-in, but I don’t criticise players very often.”
Reflecting on going the season unbeaten, Hodgson said: “It’s a good achievement.
“That’s not been done for over 20 years. The players deserve some credit for that.”
“It’s great to score the winner and it was a great team performance,” said Rooney.
“We were unlucky to be 1-0 down and we spoke about that at half-time and came out on the front foot.”
Slovenia coach Srecko Katanec accused his team of schoolboy defending after the defeat, which puts a dent in their hopes of claiming second place in Group E.
“We came within five minutes of winning before conceding in such a naive way,” he said.
“It was a mistake you can’t make at junior level, much less here.”
Rooney closing in on landmark: Page 6.