Rating the players: England 2-0 Lithuania

Date published: Monday 27th March 2017 11:24

Before the game, ITV ran an exclusive interview conducted with a wiser, more mellow Joe Hart, one who has adapted, learned from his previous failings, and improved in Italy. The naïve leader who wore his heart on his sleeve and bellowed orders to his teammates in the tunnel before high-profile errors in the summer against Wales and Slovenia was long forgotten.

Nothing has changed. Hart remains a supremely talented yet eminently mistake-prone goalkeeper. As offside as Vykintas Slivka clearly was, the England captain had absolutely no idea, and his poor decision-making almost led to an equaliser.

A viable challenger to his spot as first choice would benefit everyone, including the Manchester City outcast.


England’s main first-half outlet. His first touch to bring down a Michael Keane crossfield pass was rivalled only by the subsequent half-volleyed cross, which really deserved a goal. He was once level with Nathaniel Clyne in the stakes for England’s starting right-back spot. That seems a long time ago.


Be it by accident or design, John Stones is one of only two defenders to have featured in every minute of a qualifying campaign in which England are the only team not to concede a single goal. He was alert enough to clear Slivka’s effort off the line, and to see him burst forward from the back is to witness a man completely at ease with his surroundings, for better or worse.


As promising as his international debut was in midweek, his first England start at Wembley was considerably more impressive and assured.

His distribution was excellent. In the opening two minutes he hit two inch-perfect passes to Walker on the wing, while he combined short and long passes effectively throughout.

His defending is clearly his strength, of course, and that was the case here. He made ten clearances and three interceptions, and displayed perfect timing and execution with a late tackle in the penalty area. Defoe was great and was named man of the match, but the Burnley centre-half was the best player on the pitch.

In only his second England game, he delivered the kind of performance people have expected for two years from John Stones.


The Southampton left-back is often overshadowed as Walker’s right-hand side is prioritised in terms of attacking avenues, but Bertrand arguably outperformed his fellow full-back. He created two goalscoring chances, had two shots, provided five crosses, and is rather unfortunate that his competition for a place is Danny Rose.


Part of an England midfield pairing that endured completely contrasting games. Whereas Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain intertwined moments of excellence into an otherwise mistake-prone performance, Eric Dier was quietly efficient. He used possession well, registering both the most passes (99) and the highest passing accuracy (97%) of any player.


His first-half performance was perhaps the worst of any player. Misplaced passes became commonplace, and he somehow achieved the curious balance of looking both self-confident and panicked in possession at the same time.

He settled down in the second half, providing one lovely pass between the lines to Dele Alli, then testing Ernestas Setkus from range.

Then he started wasting possession again and Harry Winks edged closer to making his international debut.


Continued his understated but pleasing improvement this season by finding the breakthrough when no-one else could. He eliminated five Lithuania defenders in a single run before squaring for Defoe to score, and of the three behind the striker, he looked most comfortable interchanging throughout.

One highlight was a delightful pass from midfield into Bertrand in the first half. He really should have scored when the roles were reversed in the second, mind. But I bloody love him, and he doesn’t get booed anymore which is lovely.


It was one of those games for Harry Redknapp’s godson. The Tottenham midfielder tried to be almost too clever on a number of occasions, attempting to play over or around Lithuania’s wall of defence. As the two goals proved, the most obvious route – straight through – was the most effective.

No player had more shots (6) and only Adam Lallana was fouled more often (4) on a frustrating evening. Few are better at fancy flicks, but there is a time and a place for them. Wembley might be the place, but against a Lithuania defence parked on the edge of their own penalty area is not the time.


Even in one of his much quieter games, Adam Lallana was crucial for England. He had the first shot on target, while his clever reverse pass into Jermain Defoe’s pass forced the first real chance.

He would provide a similarly clever assist for Jamie Vardy’s goal in the second half, but he deserves just as much credit for the opener. Within a minute of the opportunity he created out of nothing for Defoe, the Sunderland striker found the back of the net. Lithuania’s defence never recovered from the initial chance.


His third touch was a shot on target; his fourth touch was the decisive goal. Jermain Defoe’s chances of making the final squad for the 2018 World Cup – provided England miraculously qualify – are slim, but there is justification for rewarding players in good form. The 34-year-old has busied himself scoring goals for the worst team in the Premier League, and has proved that he has a role to play for England in the present, if not the future.



JAMIE VARDY (on for Defoe, 60)
Just as the oldest member of this England squad proved his worth, so did the second oldest. Jamie Vardy’s status as an international footballer will always be questioned as his direct, counter-attacking style often looks so disjointed with the short passes and clever flicks. He seems far more suited to a role as an impact substitute as opposed to a starter. But he offers something different, and six goals from 16 caps is a solid return. At a time when the game needed a spark, the Leicester forward provided it within six minutes of his introduction.


MARCUS RASHFORD (on for Sterling, 60)
For the first time in his nascent career, he looks visibly frustrated. That would be worrying for both England and Manchester United if he was allowing it to affect his game, but he seems more determined than ever to prove a point. Despite playing just half an hour, he completed more dribbles (7) and created more chances (7) than any other player. He’s really, really bloody good. And he’s only 19.


Matt Stead

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