Euro 2016 Qualifier: Riddle as boss Hodgson denies match-winner Rooney subplot

 
Ross McLean
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Wayne Rooney celebrated his 99th England cap by scoring the winning goal against Estonia
ESTONIA 0 ENGLAND 1

ENGLAND boss Roy Hodgson denied intending to substitute below-par Wayne Rooney moments before his skipper proved the match-winner in a laborious victory over 10-man Estonia in Tallinn yesterday.

Rooney – winning his 99th cap – endured a frustrating evening and looked set to be replaced by Liverpool forward Rickie Lambert seconds before curling home a free-kick to extend England’s perfect start to their Euro 2016 qualification campaign.

Similar to Thursday’s clash with San Marino, despite dominating possession England failed to find any sustained attacking rhythm against a compact and deep-lying defensive unit, even after the dismissal of Estonian captain Ragnar Klavan early in the second period.

And while the goal postponed any form of substitution, England coaching staff were thought to have handed in the necessary paperwork to sanction Rooney’s withdrawal, a notion Hodgson dismissed out of hand.

“We were still considering it, at least as far as I know,” he said. “I was in discussions with other members of staff, I don’t know about forms going in but it certainly wasn’t my intention put it that way.

“We were going to put Rickie Lambert on and we were discussing which of the two front players we would take off but we hadn’t made up our mind it was to be Wayne Rooney. It was probably more likely to be Danny Welbeck.

“It was a frustrating night for Wayne, he had a lot of the ball and a lot of chances and half chances. I think he would have been bitterly disappointed if he had come off the field without scoring and I think he would have blamed himself.

“But luckily he didn’t have to as he scored the winner and we came away with three more points.”

Ranked 81st in world football, Estonia were always likely to pose more of a threat than the Sammarinese having recorded some notable scalps on home turf in recent years and beaten Slovenia in their opening qualification fixture.

And within the opening minute, Blackpool winger Sergei Zenjov flashed an effort into Joe Hart’s side-netting before former Motherwell attacker Henri Anier blasted the resulting corner over the crossbar.

England settled and threatened after quarter of an hour, Rooney’s first-time volley narrowly clearing the bar after the Manchester United forward had darted between Estonia’s centre-halves to latch onto Jack Wilshere’s clever through-ball.

The visitors continued to knock on the Estonian door without ever dominating the opening period as Danny Welbeck engineered space in the box only for his cross to evade onrushing Liverpool playmaker Adam Lallana shortly before the break.

Estonia were reduced to 10 men three minutes after the restart as Klavan was shown a second yellow card for barging into a rampaging Fabian Delph, which followed a first-half caution for blocking Welbeck.

England, however, did not overly trouble Estonia’s reduced number until the 69th minute when substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain failed to get sufficient purchase on a header from a tantalising Calum Chambers cross from the right.

Four minutes later, England’s perseverance was rewarded when Rooney’s flighted free-kick over the Estonia wall deceived stopper Sergei Pareiko, following a foul on Jordan Henderson’s replacement Raheem Sterling.

With a minute of regulation time remaining, Oxlade-Chamberlain hit the byline down the left-hand side of the area and dinked a cross to the far post only for Rooney to hook his volley back across the six-yard box rather than towards the target.

Rooney’s wastefulness in front of goal continued in stoppage time as he failed to beat veteran keeper Pereiko while in the clear after sprinting onto another pinpoint Wilshere pass.