England 2-0 Lithuania: Jermain Defoe strikes on international return
By Kate Burlaga
Last Updated: 27/03/17 6:29am
Jermain Defoe made a goalscoring return to the international stage as England saw off Lithuania 2-0 in a low-key World Cup Qualifier at Wembley.
The 34-year-old, back in the side for the first time since November 2013, took just 21 minutes to serve reminder of his enduring prowess in the box, but it took until midway through the second half for the hosts to double their lead, substitute Jamie Vardy's slotted finish (66) sealing victory.
England - who paid tribute before the game to the victims of the Westminster attack in London, as well as to late former manager Graham Taylor - were rarely more than workmanlike against a 107th-ranked side that predictably defended deep.
But the win - combined with Scotland's late triumph over Slovenia - stretches England's Group F lead to four points and means Gareth Southgate's side are still yet to concede a goal in a qualifying campaign that looks familiarly routine.
Southgate had been forced to ditch the 3-4-3 formation in which England impressed despite a midweek defeat to Germany, reverting to a back four in the absence of the suspended Gary Cahill and injured Chris Smalling, as well as deploying Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and fielding Defoe in place of Vardy.
Lithuania boss Edgaras Jankauskas had said his side would draw inspiration from England's Euro 2016 conquerors, Iceland, but they ceded ground from the off, yellow shirts camped in their own half for long spells and Nerijus Valskis alone in attack.
England bossed possession yet carried only fleeting threat and an early free-kick routine drew groans, Dele Alli's flick from an Eric Dier ball into feet overcooked.
Adam Lallana saw a shot deflected into the hands of Ernestas Setkus, while a Kyle Walker cross - emphatically volleyed across goal - needed an intervention at the far post, but a burst of pace from Raheem Sterling carved the opener, the Manchester City man's cut-back affording Defoe a first England goal for more than four years.
The Sunderland striker, scenting further opportunity, took aim from range as the half-hour approached but though the game drifted towards the interval, the hosts almost conceded an unlikely equaliser in the scruffiest fashion.
Vykintas Slivka won an innocuous header more than 30 yards from goal but Valskis read the bouncing ball better than Joe Hart, the England captain parrying under pressure before John Stones hooked away.
Sterling should have doubled the lead minutes after the restart, miscuing at close-range when Ryan Bertrand delivered, before Alli headed a Walker cross over as England upped the tempo.
But Lithuania, confined to their half for so much of the game, made Hart work when Fiodor Cernych broke down the left, Slivka's shot on target but short on power.
A subdued Wembley crowd found voice to cheer Defoe's contribution on the hour, the forward - saluted by young cancer sufferer Bradley Lowery from the stands - making way for Vardy as Sterling was swapped for Marcus Rashford.
Rashford offered directness as he sought to make an impact but it was Vardy who found the net, side-footing into the corner to finish a neat move that saw Walker and Lallana combine in a crowded box.
The Leicester striker might have had a second when he was played in by Rashford, instead lifting the ball over the 'keeper, before Oxlade-Chamberlain put his laces through a ball that rose invitingly as time ticked down.
Bertrand shanked into the crowd from an angle after Setkus halted another darting Rashford run but England had to settle for a modest scoreline in a game likely to swiftly slip the memory.