Joe Hart to the rescue as Southgate brands England a 'mess'
Goalkeeper pulls off a series of brilliant saves as dismal Three Lions cling on for a goalless draw
Slovenia 0 England 0
It was bad, very bad, even by England's standards, and interim manager Gareth Southgate pointed the finger of blame not at his players, but his predecessors.
After a goalless draw of such mind-boggling mediocrity it brought back memories of the Steve McClaren era, Southgate told reporters he had inherited "a mess". Although he didn't actually name Roy Hodgson or Sam Allardyce, it's clear the temporary boss, who was appointed last month after Allardyce's spectacular fall from grace, doesn't think much of the men who have managed the Three Lions in recent months.
"Would I have been happy with a point before the game? No. But it's a very important point in the context of qualifying from the group," said Southgate, after watching England salvage a point from the side ranked 67th in the world. "We wanted six points but we have taken over a mess and had to steady the ship... We are on track."
If they are on track - and it's true England lead their World Cup qualifying group by two points after three matches - it's only because of the brilliance of Joe Hart on Tuesday night.
Pep Guardiola might not think much of Hart's ability, but the Manchester City manager must be in the minority this morning after a display that included one stunning save that The Sun spoke of in the same breath as Gordon Bank's effort against Pele in the 1970 World Cup.
"We owe our goalkeeper for an outstanding performance," said Southgate. "His decision-making has been excellent, the use of the ball with his feet has been very good and two or three of his saves were absolutely outstanding tonight... He showed the level he's capable of. He was top, top class."
Hart was the only England player to emerge with credit from the bore draw in Ljubljana, twice bailing out his team after sloppy backpasses were seized on by Slovenian players and then producing his wonder save against Jasmin Kurtic.
"I saw the ball inside the net," said Kurtic, who couldn't quite believe how his header had been kept out. "Then, when I saw he'd saved it, I was impressed.
"But we know that Joe Hart is one of the best goalkeepers in the world and that's normal that he can make saves like that."
Guardiola's rejection of Hart in the summer prompted him to seek a fresh start in Serie A with Torino and the move has clearly reinvigorated the 29-year-old, whose athleticism between the posts came at a price.
"My body is in pieces," he told reporters. "I don't know what happened for the save but I landed on the frame of the goal. I don't think I'll be able to get up in the morning.
"It was my best game for a while. I was asked to do quite a bit but that was down to a few errors by us. We are a young team and we will get better.”
England only threatened the Slovenian goal in the last few minutes, with Jesse Lingard forcing a sharp save from Jan Oblak and Danny Rose blasting horribly wide with the goal at his mercy. That miss summed up the night and Southgate now has a month to clear up the mess he inherited.
On the plus side, the Three Lions's next opponents, Scotland at Wembley on 11 November, are in an equally big mess. They were humbled 3-0 by Slovakia, so at least there's one team in Britain worse than England.
Wayne Rooney faces 'difficult period' after England axe
England captain Wayne Rooney will start tonight's World Cup qualifier against Slovenia in Ljubljana on the bench and has admitted he is in a "difficult period" after also losing his place in the Manchester United team.
The 30-year-old has been dropped from the starting line-up by interim manager Gareth Southgate after another indifferent display in Saturday's 2-0 win over Malta.
Rooney, who is England's record scorer with 53 goals in 117 appearances, has found the net just once in 12 games for club and country this season, and his form has become a source of contention for England fans ever since the humiliating defeat to Iceland in the summer European Championships.
He was booed by sections of the crowd on Saturday notes Sky Sports, and although Rooney will retain his role as England's official captain, tonight's on-field skipper will be Jordan Henderson.
"I understand and I respect the manager's decision and I'll support the players 100 per cent, and try to help the players get three points tomorrow," said Rooney when he appeared before the press on Monday evening.
He accepted that he was in a "difficult period", but Rooney said there was "no embarrassment" in being on the bench and appeared philosophical about the dip in his form this year.
"I've played 13 years non-stop for England and given everything and the time comes when you are not the first name on the team sheet. It is a chance for other players," he said. "I've been on the bench the last few games for Manchester United but that's part of football... I have to work hard and when I'm needed for both club and country, I'll make sure I'm ready."
Asked what he thought of the man chosen to take over the captaincy role, Rooney replied: "I think Jordan is a fantastic leader. He has taken a difficult job from Steven Gerrard at Liverpool and grown into the position. He has great leadership qualities and he deserves his chance. It will be an incredibly proud moment for him and his family."
Rooney's demotion was confirmed a few hours after his wife, Coleen, hit out at her husband's growing band of detractors, reports the BBC. Telling the most vociferous critics to "shut up", she added: "We're not plastic, he's not plastic, we are people".
The decision by Southgate to drop Rooney indicates that the man chosen to replace the disgraced Sam Allardyce at the end of last month is not afraid to make bold calls despite his relative inexperience.
"We have looked at the way Slovenia play and I knew in my mind the profile of the midfield I wanted to play in this game," said Southgate, who has selected Eric Dier to replace Rooney in midfield. "In no way is it a reflection of Wayne's performance on Saturday. He had a lot of the ball and played with great tactical discipline. It's not an easy decision to take because of the respect I have for him as the captain of this team."
And Southgate ended by praising the way Rooney had dealt with the news of his relegation from the starting XI. "Not only did he accept the news with great professionalism but he was also keen to come and speak today," said the England boss. "I wasn’t sure that was the correct decision because I don’t want to subject him to being in the spotlight more than he already is, but on reflection it’s a great opportunity for him to talk about his pride of playing for his country and let you know how he feels about it."