Unbeaten England have reasons to be cheerful
Updated: 2015-06-15 10:17
England's Jack Wilshere celebrates after scoring a goal during their UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifying Group E match against Slovenia at Stozice Stadium in Ljubljana, Slovenia, June 14, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]
LJUBLJANA - England's progress since a pitiful World Cup group-stage exit a year ago was confirmed by Sunday's 3-2 win in Slovenia, which secured their first unbeaten season since 1990-91 and displayed signs of a new attacking intent.
Defeats by Italy and Uruguay and a draw with Costa Rica in Brazil last June were viewed by many England fans as the lowest point in the team's chequered history but six wins from six in Euro 2016 qualifying are beginning to change perceptions.
It is an easy Group E -- second-placed Slovenia trail England by nine points -- and two teams automatically qualify for the expanded 24-team tournament in France, but even coach Roy Hodgson cannot have expected 18 points at this stage.
His joy at fulltime could have been very different if Wayne Rooney had not made it 3-2 in the dying minutes to move one goal behind Bobby Charlton's England record tally of 49.
"We dominated the game totally for long, long periods," Hodgson told ITV.
Hodgson also put a positive spin on his decision to start centre half Phil Jones at right back and then substitute him after a error-strewn first period for midfielder Adam Lallana, with right back Nathaniel Clyne on the bench.
Lallana helped set up Jack Wilshere's two pile-drivers and midfielder Jordan Henderson filled in well at the back, a tactic Hodgson said was intentional to keep England on the attack.
"Jordan did very well at right back, we were thinking that we would be limiting our options if we replaced Phil Jones with another defender," Hodgson said.
"It was harsh on Nathaniel, he doesn't deserve that...but it was the best way to get Lallana on. Luckily both moves worked out well."
Another indication of England having more bite in the final third, in contrast to a dour recent goalless friendly in Ireland, was midfielder Wilshere finally netting for his country on his 28th appearance.
His two carbon copy crackers from outside the box were worth the wait and the 23-year-old acknowledged he should shoot more having become accustomed to sometimes over intricate passing at Arsenal.
"It has been a long time coming. When the first one came I just hit it so I had a little bit of confidence for the second one," he said.
Tougher tests await and there remain major question marks defensively but England fans are rightly feeling a lot more cheerful.