England took another comfortable step on the road to qualification for next summer’s World Cup in Russia as they eased past Lithuania at Wembley.
Gareth Southgate’s first game at Wembley since succeeding Sam Allardyce on a permanent basis provided few alarms as England remain firmly in control at the top of Group F.
Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe justified his call-up at 34 for a first England appearance since late 2013 with a typically clinical finish after 21 minutes and a lively performance that suggested he still has a part to play under Southgate.
And when Southgate needed someone to break Lithuania’s stubborn resistance after the break, substitute Jamie Vardy obliged from close-range in the 66th minute, converting a subtle touch from Liverpool’s Adam Lallana inside the area.
Before kick-off there was a minute’s silence inside the stadium for the victims of last week’s London attack. There was also a tribute paid to former England manager Graham Taylor, who died in January.
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Southgate picks a winner in Defoe
Eyebrows were raised in some quarters when Southgate recalled Defoe to the squad having last represented his country against Chile at Wembley in November 2013.
Defoe’s inclusion, however, represented perfect sense with a record of 14 Premier League goals and two assists in a Sunderland side propping up the table and England’s main striker Harry Kane out injured.
And so it proved as he pounced in trademark fashion for his first England goal in four years and four days since scoring in an easy win against San Marino, clipping a clinical finish high beyond Lithuania keeper Ernestas Setkus after 21 minutes from Raheem Sterling’s delivery.
Defoe had already brought one crucial block from the keeper earlier as he stole in on Lallana’s pass. He looks like a player full of hunger who has lost none of his predatory, goalscoring instincts.
England will face stubborn opposition again before this World Cup qualifying campaign is over and a poacher like Defoe may well come in very handy for Southgate as he plots his route to Russia next summer.
Job done at subdued Wembley
England’s friendly against Germany in Dortmund on Wednesday was effectively a testimonial for veteran striker Lukas Podolski on his international farewell – with an atmosphere to match in the normally thunderous Signal Iduna Park.
Wembley was also on the subdued side because World Cup Qualifying Group F is a hard-sell in terms of excitement for England’s fans, who understandably expect Southgate’s side to dismiss opposition such as Lithuania with the minimum of fuss.
England fulfilled those requirements comfortably in the face of stubborn opponents who sat back and invited them on in the early phases, then seemed intent on damage limitation and no more as any hope of getting a return from this qualifier evaporated.
There may be more of the same in the remaining home qualifiers against Slovakia and Slovenia but England, once again, are getting the job done as they move closer to reaching the World Cup.
The old lingering fear remains that the real measure of how far England are progressing under Southgate will come at a major tournaments, where their limitations have been exposed regularly.
England still need cutting edge
Southgate can be satisfied from what he has got from England’s international double header, with a creditable performance in defeat against World Cup holders Germany and victory here against Lithuania.
If he has a complaint, it could be that England need to be more ruthless in front of goal, paying for wasted opportunities in Dortmund and also missing chances to make this a more convincing margin of victory.
England will not find this failing too expensive in a friendly or against mediocre opposition – but it could cost them if the flaws are on show against higher-class in a competitive environment.
It is why Defoe’s marksmanship is currently required and why the return of a fit and in-form Harry Kane will be so welcome.
Man of the match – Jermain Defoe
‘We’ll play better’
England manager Gareth Southgate:
“I thought it was one of those afternoons where it’s job done.
“I am not going to eulogise over the performance, but the overall week I think has been really positive in setting the tone of how we want to work.
“The players have got a good feel about them, a spirit and they see the direction we want to head. For sure, we’ll play better than we did today.”
Lithuania boss Edgaras Jankauskas:
“I am very proud of my team because we have been tested by a tremendously strong team – probably the strongest team we have faced until now.
“We will take a lot of positives from this loss, to see what targets can be set because what we witnessed today in the first half was unbelievable how skilful all those attacking players are and what amount of pressure we were put under.”
Defoe joins the ’20-goals club’
- England are the only team to have kept a clean sheet in each 2018 World Cup qualification game so far.
- Vardy’s goal was his first touch of the match.
- Lallana has been directly involved in four goals in his last five England appearances (three goals; one assist).
- Defoe is the 22nd player to reach the 20 goal landmark for England.
England next qualifier is against Scotland at Hampden Park on Saturday, 10 June.
- 7SterlingSubstituted forRashfordat 60′minutesBooked at 73mins
- 9DefoeSubstituted forVardyat 60′minutes
- 8VaitkunasBooked at 46mins
- 10ZulpaBooked at 59mins
- 14SlivkaSubstituted forPauliusat 87′minutes
- 11NovikovasSubstituted forGrigaraviciusat 54′minutes
- 19ValskisSubstituted forMatuleviciusat 73′minutes
- Ruddy Buquet
- Shots on Target
Match ends, England 2, Lithuania 0.
Second Half ends, England 2, Lithuania 0.
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Delay in match Arturas Zulpa (Lithuania) because of an injury.
Attempt missed. Ryan Bertrand (England) left footed shot from the left side of the box is close, but misses the top left corner. Assisted by Marcus Rashford.
Attempt saved. Marcus Rashford (England) right footed shot from a difficult angle on the left is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Dele Alli.
Dele Alli (England) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Simonas Paulius (Lithuania).
Attempt missed. Dele Alli (England) header from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Marcus Rashford with a cross.
Substitution, Lithuania. Simonas Paulius replaces Vykintas Slivka.
John Stones (England) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Deivydas Matulevicius (Lithuania).
Attempt saved. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (England) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the top centre of the goal.
Attempt blocked. Dele Alli (England) right footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Marcus Rashford.
Eric Dier (England) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Mindaugas Grigaravicius (Lithuania).
Attempt missed. Eric Dier (England) header from very close range is high and wide to the left. Assisted by Marcus Rashford with a cross following a corner.
Corner, England. Conceded by Mantas Kuklys.
Attempt blocked. Dele Alli (England) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Marcus Rashford.
Attempt missed. Jamie Vardy (England) left footed shot from the centre of the box is too high. Assisted by Marcus Rashford with a through ball.
Adam Lallana (England) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Mantas Kuklys (Lithuania).
Foul by Adam Lallana (England).
Fedor Cernych (Lithuania) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Kyle Walker (England) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Deivydas Matulevicius (Lithuania).
Corner, Lithuania. Conceded by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Substitution, Lithuania. Deivydas Matulevicius replaces Nerijus Valskis.
Marcus Rashford (England) is shown the yellow card for hand ball.
Hand ball by Marcus Rashford (England).
Attempt saved. Dele Alli (England) right footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Kyle Walker.
Attempt missed. Marcus Rashford (England) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the right. Assisted by Adam Lallana.
Foul by Dele Alli (England).
Vaidas Slavickas (Lithuania) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Corner, Lithuania. Conceded by Ryan Bertrand.
Goal! England 2, Lithuania 0. Jamie Vardy (England) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Adam Lallana with a through ball.
Corner, England. Conceded by Vaidas Slavickas.
Attempt saved. Dele Alli (England) right footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Marcus Rashford.
Attempt missed. Arturas Zulpa (Lithuania) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the left. Assisted by Vaidas Slavickas.
Substitution, England. Marcus Rashford replaces Raheem Sterling.