England took another comfortable step on the road to qualification for next summer’s World Cup in Russia as they eased past Lithuania at Wembley.
Gareth Southgate’s first game at Wembley since succeeding Sam Allardyce on a permanent basis provided few alarms as England remain firmly in control at the top of Group F.
Sunderland striker Jermain Defoe justified his call-up at 34 for a first England appearance since late 2013 with a typically clinical finish after 21 minutes and a lively performance that suggested he still has a part to play under Southgate.
And when Southgate needed someone to break Lithuania’s stubborn resistance after the break, substitute Jamie Vardy obliged from close-range in the 66th minute, converting a subtle touch from Liverpool’s Adam Lallana inside the area.
Before kick-off there was a minute’s silence inside the stadium for the victims of last week’s London attack. There was also a tribute paid to former England manager Graham Taylor, who died in January.
Southgate picks a winner in Defoe
Eyebrows were raised in some quarters when Southgate recalled Defoe to the squad having last represented his country against Chile at Wembley in November 2013.
Defoe’s inclusion, however, represented perfect sense with a record of 14 Premier League goals and two assists in a Sunderland side propping up the table and England’s main striker Harry Kane out injured.
And so it proved as he pounced in trademark fashion for his first England goal in four years and four days since scoring in an easy win against San Marino, clipping a clinical finish high beyond Lithuania keeper Ernestas Setkus after 21 minutes from Raheem Sterling’s delivery.
Defoe had already brought one crucial block from the keeper earlier as he stole in on Lallana’s pass. He looks like a player full of hunger who has lost none of his predatory, goalscoring instincts.
England will face stubborn opposition again before this World Cup qualifying campaign is over and a poacher like Defoe may well come in very handy for Southgate as he plots his route to Russia next summer.