Jermain Defoe and Jamie Vardy give England Lithuania win
Gareth Southgate’s side unbeaten in qualifiers since 2009 after routine Wembley win
Jermain Defoe scored his first international goal since March 2013 as England beat Lithuania 2-0 at Wembley. Photograph: Glyn Kirk/Getty
England 2 Lithuania 0
The most remarkable statistic attached to this victory is that England, for all their traumas and intermittent crises, have now gone 34 matches since they last experienced defeat in a qualifying match. That occasion was October 2009, Fabio Capello’s team going down 1-0 to Ukraine in Dnepropetrovsk, and to put it into context the national team have had three different full-time managers since that point and another in temporary charge.
It can feel like a deception sometimes bearing in mind what usually then happens at the actual tournaments but, in qualifying, England’s results continue to bring in large crowds – close to 78,000 here – and for the most part they do at least send the fans away without any major grievances.
The latest win was yet another occasion of drowsy inevitability, facing moderate opponents who seemed relatively content just to keep the score down, and it almost came as a surprise that England restricted themselves to only one more goal, courtesy of the substitute Jamie Vardy, after Jermain Defoe marked his return to the international set-up by scoring midway the first half.
Defoe, as such, can reflect on a satisfying evening’s work that will considerably improve his chances of remaining in the squad for England’s next assignment in Group F, against Scotland on June 10th. The Sunderland striker left with the official man-of-the-match award but the biggest prize was his first England goal since March 2013.
That one came against San Marino although Defoe, 35 later this year, has been around the block long enough to know that international football is not always this easy. His goal here made him the sixth oldest scorer in England’s history, with only Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney, Teddy Sheringham, Frank Lampard and Jack Charlton above him on the list.
Lithuania looked what they were: a team 107th in Fifa’s world rankings, directly behind Mauritania and Mozambique. They managed three efforts all night – two more, in fairness, than their total when losing 4-0 here two years ago – and Joe Hart barely had to get a scuff of grass on his kit to register the 40th clean sheet of his international career. Hart duly moves alongside David Seaman in the all-time list, though Peter Shilton’s record of 66 remains some distance away and he did stray dangerously close to a moment of personal embarrassment on the stroke of half-time.
Fortunately for Hart, John Stones was well positioned to clear the danger after a long kick out had been headed all the way back towards Hart’s penalty area, catching out not just England’s goalkeeper but also confusing the linesman covering that half of the pitch. Vykintas Slivka, the nearest player to England’s goal, was offside by some distance but the flag never went up and Hart, rushing out in a state of apparent confusion, misjudged the trajectory of the bouncing ball. Slivka’s header had gone past the goalkeeper and would have bounced into the empty net had Stones not run back to hook the ball away.
That apart, there was little else to trouble Hart on a day when he was given the captaincy. England are now the only team in the entire qualifying programme not to concede a goal and Michael Keane, having made an accomplished debut against Germany on Wednesday, fully justified his selection again. True, Lithuania were obliging opponents but the Burnley defender played with an assuredness that will surely keep him prominently in Southgate’s thoughts, no matter how many of his centre-halves are available again for the trip to Hampden Park.
Southgate will hope to have Harry Kane and Daniel Sturridge available again by that point and the England manager insists the door has not been shut on Wayne Rooney despite the evidence to the contrary. Yet Defoe is entitled to think he delivered a reminder of his penalty-box expertise before being replaced by Vardy just before the hour.
Defoe’s goal came after 21 minutes and owed heavily to Raheem Sterling’s ability to turn past defenders in and around the penalty area. Sterling’s darting run deceived one opponent and his low, precise delivery beat two others. Defoe was loitering with intent just outside the six-yard area and side-footed a rising shot into the top corner of Emestas Setkus’s goal.
Lithuania’s only victories over the last three years have come against San Marino, Malta, Estonia and Finland but, if nothing else, they coped better than their last visit to Wembley, memorable for Kane’s debut goal. England, nonetheless, could reflect on several chances to extend their lead before Adam Lallana’s delicate touch set up Vardy to fire in their second goal.