England made it four wins out of five in World Cup 2018 qualifying as they beat Lithuania 2-0 at Wembley.
Jermain Defoe broke the deadlock for England inside 21 minute when he calmly slotted Raheem Sterling’s feed into the top-right corner.
John Stones was required to hook an effort off the line just before the break, although upon reflection the offside flag should have gone up long before.
It took England a while to seal the three points, the decisive blow eventually coming when substitute Jamie Vardy slotted home Adam Lallana’s clever feed.
Defoe returned with a bang as England overcame Lithuania, netting his first international goal in four years as Gareth Southgate’s men secured a predictably comfortable World Cup qualification win.
Devastated to have been overlooked for the 2014 World Cup months after heading to Major League Soccer, few expected the 34-year-old to ever don the Three Lions again.
But Defoe’s performances at Sunderland have belied his advancing years and earned a long-awaited England recall – a return marked by opening the scoring against Lithuania, with Jamie Vardy’s smart finish wrapping up a straightforward 2-0 win.
The striker’s 20th goal on his 56th cap – 1,227 days after his previous appearance – was made all the more special by the fact he led his country out with Bradley Lowery, the terminally-ill five-year-old who calls the Sunderland striker his “best mate”.
It was already an emotive evening as tribute was paid to former England manager Graham Taylor and those affected by the Westminster terror attack, with those at Wembley responding with a dignified display in stark contrast to those who sung offensive chants in Germany.
An impressive 77,690 were in attendance for a qualifier that was always unlikely to be much of a tussle, with England finally breaking the resolve of the side 107th in the world when Defoe turned home midway through the first half.
Vardy’s introduction in place of the Sunderland striker brought with it a second goal, with the finish as classy as Adam Lallana’s assist on an evening that Lithuania threatened in patches but without a cutting edge.
Back to basics
England reverted to the tried and tested 4-2-3-1 for this match despite Wednesday’s successful dalliance with 3-4-3 in the narrow 1-0 loss in Germany, while Lithuania adopted a packed defence.
The decision to start poacher Defoe and the quick Raheem Sterling seemed a smart move in a bid to unlock Edgaras Jankauskas’ men, but early attempts to break through the lines were cut off.
Midfield congestion and poor delivery prevented England turning their 80 per cent possession into a clear-cut opportunity until midway through the first half.
The first chance came courtesy of Lallana’s ingenuity, sending a cutting ball through the Lithuanian backline only for Ernestas Setkus to spread himself well to thwart Defoe.
The danger was not quelled for long, though. Sterling’s directness saw him burst down the left, with his cutback turned home impressively by Defoe.
It was a cool finish that took the widely-travelled striker’s international tally to 20 – a haul he quickly attempted to add to with a 25-yard snapshot which went wide.
Sterling’s trickery threatening to unlock the visitors as England looked to increase their lead – but the opening period ended with a let-off for the Three Lions.
Fedor Cernych’s dragged shot had been Lithuania’s biggest threat – not counting an over-zealous Vaidas Slavickas challenge – until a stoppage-time clearance was powered back towards goal.
Vykintas Slivka somehow avoided the offside flag and captain Joe Hart, getting a header away that John Stones hacked away before the ball crossed the line.
Sterling and Dele Alli had attempts after the turnaround – but Slivka calling Hart into action highlighted the need for a second goal.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose display was largely underwhelming, saw a curling effort from 25 yards denied by Setkus.
Southgate made a double change on the hour and the introduction of Marcus Rashford and Vardy – for Sterling and Defoe – paid dividends six minutes later when Vardy finished well after a sublime Lallana touch had turned a Kyle Walker pass into the path of the Leicester striker.
Rashford and Alli had efforts to add to the scoreline, with the former booked for handball before sending a lovely ball through which Vardy lifted just over.
Lithuania threatened in fits and starts but it only ever really looked like another goal would come from England, with Eric Dier heading over before full-time was called.