Euro 2016 qualifiers: Wilshere brace helps England turnaround Slovenia
In this post-Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard era, England have been criticised for lacking goals from midfield. Jack Wilshere, playing as the Three Lions’ engine-room ball-winner, twice struck superbly to turnaround a tricky Euro 2016 qualifier in Slovenia and set the visitors on their way to a 3-2 victory.
Veteran striker Milivoje Novakovic had given the hosts a half-time lead against the run of play, but injury-prone Arsenal man Wilshere proved his worth to his country with a couple of sweet finishes to help ensure England ended the 2014/15 campaign unbeaten, winning all competitive internationals.
Former Sheffield Wednesday frontman Nejc Pecnik thought he had headed Slovenia level late on, but Three Lions skipper Wayne Rooney snatched victory for the visitors four minutes from time to go within one goal of equalling Sir Bobby Charlton’s record.
England boss Roy Hodgson responded to the drab and dour draw in Dublin by making three changes, including the absence of a natural right back from the XI. Andros Townsend was another eyebrow-raising selection, but played a key part in Wilshere’s second with his last action.
Kieran Gibbs had a torrid time at left back, however, culpable on both occasions when the Three Lions conceded in Ljubljana. Using 10 different back four combinations in the last nine internationals is something England’s sterner opponents next summer should take note of.
Raheem Sterling’s industrious effort saw him lift just over and see another chance deflected wide as Hodgson’s men started brightly. Inter Milan keeper Samir Handanovic then had to produce his very best to thwart Wayne Rooney and turned his shot across goal behind.
Novakovic used years of craft to stun the Three Lions when exchanging passes with Fiorentina’s Josip Ilicic, as the visitors stepped up their offside trap too late. Chris Smalling joined Gibbs in being adjudged guilty, as they allowed the veteran to get in the clear in Slovenia’s right channel and slot beyond the advancing Joe Hart.
Injury to Phil Jones forced Hodgson into a change at the interval, so he brought on Adam Lallana and dropped Jordan Henderson into right back.
The substitute’s attempted pullback forced a hurried clearance from former West Bromwich Albion defender Bostjan Cesar, and Wilshere was on hand to smash England level 12 minutes into the second-half. Handanovic got a hand to it, but it was too sweetly struck and powerful to prevent the equaliser.
Rooney then spurned two great chances to put his team ahead when fed by Sterling on both occasions. Instead, it fell to Wilshere with 17 minutes left to grab another stunner. Townsend’s raid down the right found Lallana, and his clever back-heel flick teed up Wilshere to find the top corner with a sumptuous 25-yarder.
Six minutes from time, Slovenia sub Pecnik got on the end of a Bojan Jokic left-wing cross to restore parity at 2-2, after good work from Borussia Dortmund’s Kevin Kampl. Hart had no chance with the ex-Owl’s header.
Jokic would go from assisting hero to villain moments later, however, when his tired sliding clearance only resulted in putting Rooney, earlier the victim of an unpunished forearm smash from Cesar, in the clear to roll the winner past Handanovic.
While there was a lot to like about England offensively, this was their poorest display in defence since their disastrous World Cup finals last summer. They are odds-on at 1/3 with Coral now to remain unbeaten in qualifying.