England escape with a point from Slovenia

Joe Hart

England were thankful to the brilliance of goalkeeper Joe Hart and large slices of good fortune as they escaped with a draw from a torrid World Cup qualifier in Slovenia.

Hart, on loan at Torino in Serie A after becoming surplus to requirements at Manchester City, saved interim manager Gareth Southgate from an embarrassing loss to the team ranked 67th in the world with a succession of outstanding saves.

He twice denied Josip Ilicic when he was played in by poor backpasses from Eric Dier and captain Jordan Henderson – but the highlight was a world-class reflex save when he turned Jasmin Kurtic’s header on to the crossbar seconds after half-time.

Kurtic also hit the post in the first half as England’s three-year run of wins in qualifiers came to an end.

They deserved no more as Slovenia were the more dangerous side and even the introduction of Wayne Rooney, dropped by Southgate, for the last 18 minutes could not rouse a disappointing England, who at least still top Group F.

Rooney had a shot just wide and Jesse Lingard forced a fine save from Jan Oblak late on – but an England win would have been harsh on the hosts.

Tough night for Southgate

Southgate’s bold decision to drop captain Rooney and the measured manner in which he handled the pre-match inquisition on his move drew many plaudits.

Once the action started in Slovenia, Southgate was at the centre of England and international football’s real world as they struggled to match the pace, verve and energy of the home side.

Southgate has four games to make his case to be Sam Allardyce’s full-time successor and after a colourless win against Malta at Wembley, this was a tough night as England struggled desperately for large phases of the game.

He can at least say he has kept England unbeaten and on course in what should ultimately be a comfortable 2018 World Cup qualification from Group F – but there has been nothing impressive yet.

To put Southgate’s very brief tenure in context, England’s opening win in Slovakia came courtesy of a 95th-minute winner from Adam Lallana at the end of a largely wretched performance under Allardyce after the failures of Euro 2016.

Southgate is working with a squad in transition and recovery after the European Championship – but he will be hoping for much better in his remaining two matches, a qualifier against hapless Scotland at Wembley on 11 November and the subsequent friendly against Spain.

Shots off target

Redemption for Hart

Hart has suffered the most traumatic period of his career after two high-profile errors against Wales and Iceland in England’s Euro 2016 debacle and being bundled through the exit at Manchester City by new manager Pep Guardiola.

It was redemption time for Hart, revitalised on loan in Italy, as the 29-year-old produced a magnificent performance to spare England’s embarrassment in Ljubljana.

Hart – who was the clear man of the match in this game – looked back to his best, rescuing Dier and Henderson when dreadful backpasses let in Ilicic.

The best moment came seconds after the restart when he produced arguably one of the finest saves of his career to claw Kurtic’s header on to the bar before reacting in an instant to clear the ball to safety. It was a world-class moment.

For a player whose cast-iron confidence – and indeed his credibility – had been questioned after his struggles in France this summer, this was compelling evidence that he can still be a high-class keeper.

He was also seen going among his nervous, unsettled colleagues offering encouragement deep into the second half. Is this the night the real Joe Hart returned to England?

Shambolic England

England’s current standing was put into perspective by a Slovenia side that are alongside Burkina Faso in Fifa’s world rankings – and yet for long periods they had Southgate’s side on the run.

The errors by Dier and Henderson would have been punished by opposition of a higher calibre and England threatened to crumble in the early moments of the second half – only to be saved by Hart.

Winger Theo Walcott produced his second disappointing England display in succession and was substituted, while striker Daniel Sturridge suffered a similar fate after an off-colour performance.

Defender John Stones was a rare composed figure and forward Marcus Rashford at least showed a spark when he came off the bench.

There were few positive points as a run of 14 straight qualifying wins came to an end with a largely colourless and uninspired England effort.

Wayne Rooney and Jamie Vardy

What they said:

England manager Gareth Southgate: “The overall objective is to qualify so long term that could be an important point. Everyone can see we could be better but their chances came from our mistakes or set-pieces.

“We owe our goalkeeper really for getting a point. He was fantastic.”

England goalkeeper Joe Hart: “They had chances, we dominated the game. They have dug in and Jan Oblak had a fantastic game for them.

“It’s my best game for a while, but it was down to a few errors from us. My body is in pieces, I’ll struggle to get up tomorrow. I landed on the frame of the goal.”

Analysis

Former England defender Danny Mills on BBC Radio 5 live: “England were outplayed, outmuscled, outthought for most of this game. They should consider themselves very lucky.

“Any positives? 0-0, and it’s a clean sheet away from home. Joe Hart’s performance was exceptional, he played like a sweeper keeper for one of the saves. Hart was tortured after the Euros, he had a tough time at Manchester City but came back. Don’t write top players off too quickly.

“The amount of pressure Slovenia put England under panicked them.

“You need to stop and calm yourself down and play it. The midfield need to slow it down when they get it. The manager said we need to play quickly but senior players need to go against the manager’s instructions and kill the tempo of the game.”

What’s next?

The 2018 World Cup qualifiers resume next month and England come up against old foes Scotland at Wembley on Friday 11 November (kick-off 19:45 BST).

The stats you need to know:

  • England are unbeaten in their last 32 World Cup or European Championship qualifying matches (won 24, drawn 8)
  • Slovenia have yet to beat England in their five meetings on the international stage (drawn one, lost four)
  • This result was England’s first 0-0 draw and the first time they had dropped points in a qualifier since their clash with Ukraine in September 2013
  • England mustered just three shots on target; their lowest in a competitive game since their game with Costa Rica at the 2014 World Cup (1)
  • It is the first time the opposition has had more shots than England in a competitive game since Montenegro in March 2013

Line-ups

Slovenia

  • 1Oblak
  • 23StrunaBooked at 89mins
  • 4Samardzic
  • 5Cesar