Jack Wilshere and Wayne Rooney rescue England in Slovenia
Three quick thoughts from England's 3-2 win over Slovenia in qualifying for next summer's European championship in France.
1. Rooney, Wilshere to the rescue
It had looked a night when Jack Wilshere assumed national hero status, but then came a Slovenia equaliser and a reminder that England remain vulnerable defensively, before Wayne Rooney took himself to the brink of history.
England's captain has now scored 48 goals for his country, level with Gary Lineker, and he did so on a night when he looked incapable of hitting the target. One more will take him level with Bobby Charlton for most in Three Lions history.
Wilshere, thriving as the fulcrum in midfield, had risen to the occasion at a point when his country, and captain, needed him. Goal scoring has never been a forte of Wilshire's, but Rooney was struggling to locate his shooting boots, perhaps impaired by the weight of history. He had missed a pair of sitters.
The first from Wilshere, in the 57th minute, was thrashed from the edge of Slovenia's box. The second, 16 minutes later, was buried from yet farther out. A goalkeeper of the pedigree of Inter's Samir Handanovic was left with zero chance on either.
The pair were needed to rescue a game that England looked to allow to slip through their grasp.
Slovenia had struggled to circumvent aggressive pressing play from the visitors and get out of their own half. Yet England fell behind to the type of error that cost them at last summer's World Cup. A collection of individual mistakes formed a composite gaffe to grant Milivoje Novakovic, a 36-year-old, the freedom of Ljubljana to score a goal utterly against the run of play, knocking significant stuffing from England.
After half-time, there was the strange sight of Jordan Henderson playing at right-back after Phil Jones -- an odd selection in the first place -- did not come out after the break, having suffered a knock to his ankle. Substitute Adam Lallana's sense of adventure gave England a new set of angles to work with, and the impetus was recovered. Roy Hodgson's switch was born of necessity, but he deserves credit for making it, even if it was from Henderson's flank that Nejc Pecnik's equaliser to make it 2-2 came.
And Henderson recovered himself by supplying the pass that took Rooney toward his destiny and England toward Euro 2016, with a perfect record of played six, won six.
2. England's defensive problems
The past 12 months had seen Hodgson's England concede just three goals in 10 matches, but here there were mix-ups and panics to echo that premature World Cup exit. The presence of Jones at right-back and Henderson as his replacement suggested Hodgson is confused on the composition of his back four.
Only Gary Cahill, most guilty of all in setting a chocolate fireguard of an offside trap, of the starting quartet could be labelled an indubitable first choice, even if England's manager is a confirmed fan of Chris Smalling. Novakovic's goal was a product of unfamiliarity among England's defenders. All four were culpable from Jones' poor throw giving Slovenia the chance to counter.
At Manchester United, Louis van Gaal has decided that Jones is neither full-back nor midfielder, where both Sir Alex Ferguson and David Moyes tried him. Hodgson obviously thinks along the same lines as Paul Scholes, who questioned his former teammate's positional play in the centre.
What that means for Nathaniel Clyne seems worth asking. In November, when Slovenia were beaten at Wembley and Scotland swept aside in a highly competitive friendly, Clyne looked a full-back of the future. He was certainly an upgrade over Glen Johnson, yet Jones was selected in Ljubljana, just as he was in Dublin, presumably for his aerial ability.
Not that Slovenia are a team to pump balls down the channel. Jones' most obvious threat was the speed of Borussia Dortmund's Kevin Kampl breaking from midfield, which Clyne, far more speedy of foot, would seem better suited to deal with.
Kieran Gibbs, who, like Andros Townsend, finished the season as a substitute for his club, is a player of considerable experience at 25. Yet he, along with Smalling, was drawn in by Josip Ilicic in the move that supplied Novakovic's goal.
Hodgson's strange and unnecessary shuffling of the pack almost proved highly costly and forced the half-time amendment that put Henderson in that unfamiliar defensive role.
3. Sterling shows signs of improvement
Townsend's performances in sending England to the last World Cup, with match-winning showings against Poland and Montenegro, have yet to be emulated by Raheem Sterling. There had been a suggestion that Theo Walcott, another of the fliers Hodgson is blessed with, might even be selected ahead of struggling Sterling, especially considering the Arsenal man's rich late-season form.
Yet Hodgson is a loyal manager, evidenced by continued faith in Townsend. "I'm expecting him to play well tonight," said Hodgson of Sterling in pre-match, confidence perhaps not shared by those who were watching him both as Liverpool's season ebbed into disappointment and last week in Ireland.
Sterling had to do much better with the fourth-minute chance that Rooney's flick gave him. The ball was bouncing, but to not force Handanovic into a save was poor. The Liverpool winger, visibly disappointed, knew that too after his shot billowed over the bar. It was England's best chance of a match they had dominated until Novakovic's goal.
That said, Sterling still looked livelier than his right-sided partner. Townsend was starting his first match in two months, having fallen from favour with Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino, and looked somewhat rusty.
He remains an uncomplicated player, always expected to cut in on from the flank and shoot with his left foot. Slovenia coach Srecko Katanec had clearly made his defenders aware of that.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.