Rooney strikes as uninspiring England scrape past Estonia
Hodgson's men make it three wins out of three with narrow victory over ten men of Estonia
Estonia 0 England 1. It was ugly, it was uninspiring but it was a victory all the same and thanks to Wayne Rooney's second-half strike England collected another three points en route to the 2016 European Championships.
Rooney, winning his 99th cap for his country, scored his 43rd international goal with a 25-yard free kick 17 minutes from time, his strike curling over the wall and beating the flailing Sergei Pareiko in the Estonia goal. It was just about Rooney's only worthwhile contribution on a night when his finishing skills once more let him down but nonetheless he is now just six goals behind Bobby Charlton's England goal-scoring record.
Rooney later expressed no surprise that it had been such a scrappy affair: "We knew that's how the game would go," he conceded. "We know they are tough games with men behind the ball and it's tough to break them down. It's a good win... We are playing well, the pleasing thing is that we have a young team and we hung in there."
As for his goal, the England captain explained: "It was close in so I was focusing on getting it over the wall. I've shown over the years I'm always capable of scoring goals."
Had England failed to take maximum points from Estonia they would have returned home with questions to answer. True, it was an away trip to an awkward opponent – but when Estonia had full-back Ragnar Klavan dismissed for a second bookable offence on 48 minutes - England held the overwhelming advantage. Yet they still struggled to string together a meaningful attack.
Pareiko hardly had a save to make up until Rooney's strike and it was only when Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced the pedestrian Jordan Henderson and Fabian Delph midway during the second period that the visitors began to threaten. Sterling, omitted from the starting XI because he was "feeling tired", was the man whose pace won England the free kick that led to Rooney's goal.
England's clean sheet was also their fifth in a row. Luis Suarez, who broke English hearts in Brazil, remains the last man to score against Joe Hart and co and although the England defence has hardly faced the world's finest forwards since then, they have now managed five shut-outs and four straight wins.
Hodgson admitted afterwards that the victory had been "hard work" but pointed out that three wins from three qualifying games was "not to be sniffed at". He added: "It was a good free-kick from Wayne but it was a frustrating night for him. He scored the winner and we go away with three more points... Estonia will cause other teams problems here."
The win, coupled with Lithuania's 2-0 home defeat to Slovenia, means England are the only unbeaten side remaining in Group E and victory against Slovenia next month (who are now second in the pool on six points) at Wembley would take them to within touching distance of qualification for Euro 2016.