Harry Kane celebrates firing England to victory over Slovenia
Because sadly last night England proved that there is no other way to describe the team Gareth Southgate is sending to Russia this summer.
England were already guaranteed a place in the finals thanks to Scotland keeping Slovakia off the Three Lions’ backs before the captain put a gloss to the campaign in the 94th minute.
Harry Kane said on the eve of the game that he does not care how they go in and he certainly showed he meant it with the relieved celebration of his scuffed effort that bobbled under Jan Oblak to spare England’s blushes.
Flights can now be booked. The only planes in evidence for most of last night, though, were the squadrons of paper ones that rained down from the upper tiers of the national stadium as disgruntled supporters were forced to make their own entertainment.
The one beacon of hope to aim for is Kane himself. Wearing his armband with pride, he became the third man behind David Platt and the delightfully-named Victorian Dr Tinsley Lindley to score on his first three games as captain.
Week after week, he continually proves he is world class but the problem for England manager Southgate is that on last night’s evidence he has very little to put out there on the pitches in Russia to support him.
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Nothing world class, very little that promises even to be World Cup-class.
An economy of talent sitting on the plane with an international striker who has shown that when his country needs him he can be relied on to do the business.
England even had the ignominy of the sponsors nominating their goalkeeper Joe Hart as the man of the match in a game that should have marked a triumphant progression into the draw.
Before Kane’s telling intervention, the best home performer had in fact been Marcus Rashford, one of the few men to emerge from last night’s snore-fest with any sort of credit.
The faith shown in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was misplaced, the biggest cheer Raheem Sterling generated was when he was substituted, Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson were too one-dimensional in a midfield devoid of invention and the errors committed by the full backs did little to settle the defensive pairing of John Stones and Gary Cahill that was picked apart far too easily by a Slovenia team that have struggled to score past anybody but Lithuania.
A relieved Gareth Southgate hugs match-winner Harry Kane
It began brightly enough. Within the opening minutes, Rashford, Sterling and Oxlade-Chamberlain were able to burst right past the Slovenia defence in an encouraging start for England, only to fail to find the necessary centre to get the scoring underway. But it was alarming how quickly they lost their way.
Slovenia, by contrast, were a team on a mission. A draw was not enough for their own World Cup aspirations and twice Hart was under pressure in the opening 11 minutes, first pushing the ball away from the toe of Josep Ilicic and then punching the ball away awkwardly from the subsequent corner. Then Roman Bezjak completely miskicked in the 20th minute with the goal at his mercy from eight yards in a huge relief to England.
It was not until the 26th minute that Henderson finally tested Oblak and even then his shot was probably headed wide. Those that had bothered to head to Wembley began to wish the tube strike was still on. There had been promises of refunds after all.
In fairness, Kane had managed to get the ball in the net after just 40 minutes, but referee Felix Zwayer somewhat randomly decided that Sterling had been pushing as the corner was swung in.
The frustration for England fans was they were expecting a performance from their side overwhelming enough to make such inexplicable decision-making irrelevant.
But the second half was even worse. Drab, dreary, unimaginative. At one point, Ryan Bertrand knocked a five-yard pass straight into touch.
Rashford should have scored when through one-on-one and Sterling managed a shot which needed an outstretched leg from Bostjan Cesar to divert it around the post. Then worryingly, Kane’s left foot, in a rich vein of form right now, finally missed one, bending an effort just around the far post as England began to despair.
Still, Slovenia could have snatched it – substitute Tim Matavz was only thwarted by the bravery of Hart diving at his feet.
In the end, it was Kane whodunit. Who else? A final predictable ending to anything but a thriller.