Defoe marks comeback as England toil to World Cup qualifier win

Tom WILLIAMS
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England's striker Jermain Defoe (L) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Lithuania at Wembley Stadium in London on March 26, 2017

England's striker Jermain Defoe (L) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Lithuania at Wembley Stadium in London on March 26, 2017

Jermain Defoe adorned his international comeback with a goal as England toiled to a 2-0 victory over Lithuania in a forgettable World Cup qualifier at Wembley on Sunday.

Defoe, 34, was making his first England appearance since November 2013, having been recalled by manager Gareth Southgate, and he marked his return with the opening goal midway through the second half.

Substitute Jamie Vardy added a second goal as England tightened their grip on first place in UEFA qualifying Group F in Southgate's first home game as permanent manager.

"We'd have liked a bit more, but I think really only one team came to win the game and it's always difficult to break down a packed defence," said Southgate.

"I'm pleased for the two lads who have got the goals -- a great story for Jermain and I felt Jamie added something to us."

England are now the last team in European qualifying yet to have conceded a goal.

Defoe's strike, the Sunderland veteran's 20th in 56 caps, was an obvious high point and second-half substitute Marcus Rashford delivered an impressive cameo.

But the stubbornly unadventurous nature of Lithuania's approach to the game, which made for a soporific match, meant there was little to shout about from an England perspective.

The game was preceded by the laying of wreaths and a minute's silence in honour of the four people killed and over 50 injured in Wednesday's terror attack in London.

Having tested out a 3-4-2-1 system in the mid-week 1-0 friendly defeat in Germany, Southgate reverted to a back four and his side were quickly on the front foot, with Adam Lallana prominent.

The Liverpool midfielder saw a deflected shot caught by Ernestas Setkus and then produced a clever pass down the inside-right channel for Defoe, whose shot was blocked by the Lithuania goalkeeper.

Defoe's penalty-box cunning was one of the reasons Southgate picked him over Vardy and he vindicated his manager's call by putting England ahead in the 22nd minute.

- Valskis let-off -

Raheem Sterling slipped past Egidijus Vaitkunas on the left before rolling in a cross that Defoe planted into the net for his first international goal since March 2013.

He threatened to notch a 21st England goal moments later, thudding a shot wide from range.

Joe Hart, captain for the day, had been a virtual bystander, but the England goalkeeper was almost embarrassed in first-half stoppage time.

The assistant referee's flag stayed down despite Nerijus Valskis appearing to be blatantly offside and the Lithuanian forward managed to head the ball past Hart, obliging John Stones to hack clear.

As England continued to labour in the second half, they were given another let-off when Vykintas Slivka was unable to find a way past Hart with a free shot from just inside the box.

Short of an Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain curler that Setkus parried, England were offering little in attack and in the 59th minute Southgate turned to his bench, sending on Vardy and Rashford.

Vardy took just seven minutes to find the net, steering a shot between Setkus and his left-hand post after Lallana delicately flicked Kyle Walker's pass into his path.

England continued to dominate, but could not add to their lead despite Rashford's best efforts.

Vardy lobbed over from Rashford's pass and Eric Dier headed wide from a Rashford corner, before the Manchester United forward embarked on a sinewy run that culminated in a sprawling save by Setkus.

"I'm very proud of my team because we've been tested by a tremendously strong team, probably the strongest team we've faced until now," said beaten manager Edgaras Jankauskas.

"We worked extremely hard. I cannot say any bad words about them."