Football Comment: Rooney a concern but midfield pair sparkle

Trevor Steven
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IF WAYNE Rooney had been anywhere near his best he could have scored six goals in England’s last two games, and that lack of ruthlessness is the only major stain on an otherwise successful international break.

Rooney will never get more chances than he did against Estonia and San Marino yet only scored once against each. The man chasing hunting Bobby Charlton’s all-time record of 49 England goals could be a good deal closer to his target if he had been on top form.

The Manchester United striker was certainly game, and he did eventually score the goal that England needed in Tallinn, but he is missing his edge, and it’s not only affecting his scoring.

Rooney didn’t create anything for team-mates either. You expect him to get on the ball, try one-twos and through-balls, but he seems to be playing nervously and tentatively.

He’s got to be careful this slump doesn’t drag on because it could hit his confidence and before he knows it he’ll believe he’s only a good player rather than a very good one.

Overall, however, Hodgson will have breathed a sigh of relief at full-time last night, having taken six points from two games in which anything less would have been deemed a disaster.

These games are about taking maximum points, and the reality is that few sides, with the possible exception of Gibraltar, roll over – especially not Estonia, who were very well organised and frequently yesterday had six men at the back and four across the middle.

For many of these England players it’s also useful experience: another trip, 180 more minutes of international football, and, crucially, another win. A few of the new boys will have learned a fair bit this week.

England’s other two main positives were the performances of Jack Wilshere and Adam Lallana. Wilshere is growing in influence and this diamond midfield system that Hodgson has adopted in the last three games suits him.

Lallana perhaps still has to convince himself he is ready for this level but yesterday will have done his confidence good. It’s rare that we have a two-footed player but, refreshingly, the Liverpool man is one and it brings a balance to the side.

Rooney aside, Hodgson’s other area to improve is England’s use of the flanks. With the best will in the world, 19-year-old Calum Chambers doesn’t yet know if he can go past players at this level so needs to have someone overlapping outside of him.

Leighton Baines didn’t get into the match much again, and England look far too predictable in wide areas. Considering they had so much possession in the final third, it was far from obvious what they were trying to achieve.

Trevor Steven is a former England international footballer who played at two World Cups. He now works as a media commentator.