By Dan Davis (@dan_davis20)
England played out a stale 0-0 draw in Slovenia in Gareth Southgate’s second game as interim manager.
A limp performance from the Three Lions meant that they could only come away from Ljubljana with a stuttering point, but ensured that they remained two points clear at the top of Group F.
Goalkeeper Joe Hart had to be alert to acrobatically tip over a header from Jasmin Kurtic, and he also saved twice in one on one situations when Josip Ilicic was played through on goal by poor England back passes.
Despite ending the game strongly, England were second best throughout the match and were lucky to come away with a point. A combination of superb goalkeeping and a string of missed chances from the home side meant that England battled to keep it all square, but lost their impressive record of 14 straight wins in qualifying.
Just a moment after Daniel Sturridge missed an early chance, Slovenia should have converted some glaring opportunities. Eric Dier played a blind back pass towards Hart, and Bezjak nipped in to intercept. With the Slovenian through one on one against Hart, the Torino shot stopper spread himself low on the turf and pushed the ball out of danger. England failed to clear their lines, and allowed Verbic the space to fire an effort on goal, which struck the post.
After Bezjak missed a gaping opening 10 yards out only seconds later, England rallied together. With 15 minutes gone, Sturridge danced his way into the penalty area, and appeared to be felled by a forceful barge from Krhic, but the referee waved away the striker’s appeals.
The best chance England created in the first 45 minutes came from a whipped cross from Jordan Henderson. Cahill met the delivery with a weak header in the penalty area, when he really should have done better, and Oblak collected comfortably.
Slovenia continued to carve out excellent opportunities during the second period.
Joe Hart was forced into his magnificent best as England failed to deal with a corner. A near post delivery was met by a blinding header from Kurtic that seemed destined for the top corner. Somehow, the England shot stopper flung himself into the air and pushed the ball onto the bar. Hart somehow clawed out a strong left hand and spectacularly kept his clean sheet intact once again as the ball fell back down off the woodwork.
Hart was once again called into action on 69 minutes. Henderson played a sloppy back pass that was seized upon by Ilicic. As he dribbled towards goal, Hart narrowed the angle down and saved the striker’s driven shot.
England were in need of much needed drive, and Southgate attempted to give his team momentum by replacing Theo Walcott with Andros Townsend. Despite the wide man’s best efforts, England’s final balls were poor all evening.
The introduction of Wayne Rooney in the number 10 role finally lifted his side’s performance.
Rose dragged a chance wide of the target on 76 minutes after a good run into the penalty area. Rooney’s 22 yarder then curled wide of Oblak’s goal, and with that England’s best chances had passed them by.
Southgate’s team will have to put in a much improved performance in their next fixture, a home game against Scotland on November 11th.
Man of the Match: Joe Hart
Slovenia: Oblak, Struna, Samardzic, Cesar (Mevlija 68′), Jokic, Kurtic, Krhin (Omladic 84′), Birsa (Kronaveter 59′), Verbic, Ilicic, Bezjak.
England: Hart, Walker, Cahill, Stones, Rose, Henderson, Dier, Alli (Rooney 73′), Walcott (Townsend 62′), Sturridge (Rashford 82′), Lingard.