- Wayne Rooney started on the bench, with Jordan Henderson captain of Gareth Southgate's England side
- England were very nearly behind inside 10 minutes when Jasmin Kurtic saw his shot cannon off the post
- There were claims for a penalty midway through the first half when Daniel Sturridge went down in the box
- Joe Hart saved England's blushes with two magnificent saves in the opening minutes of the second half
- Hart kept Slovenia at bay throughout the second half, making a string of stops to keep the game goalless
- England brought Andros Townsend, Rooney and Marcus Rashford on but still couldn't manage to score
- For Wayne Rooney came the realisation that, yes, watching England can be hard going. But managing them? Only now will Gareth Southgate appreciate how difficult that is, too.
It would be ludicrous to suggest Southgate made a mistake axing Rooney from starting XI. The time had certainly arrived and England’s interim boss still deserves credit for taking such a bold step.
But he must have endured moments here at the Stozice Stadium when he began to question his own judgment, finally turning to the England captain after 73 minutes in an act of sheer desperation.
Had it not been for Joe Hart, this would have been a rare defeat for England in a qualifying campaign. Instead, it was a first failure to win in 15 matches.
This most certainly was not a new era and the sight of this young side playing so tentatively is a clear sign that they continue to nurse that Icelandic hangover. They have now scored four goals in five games, a very poor return.
Hart saved them here, overcoming his own early season difficulties to rescue his colleagues from their apparent desire to self-destruct and repelling a quite stunning header from Jasmin Kurtic. Hart excelled in making the save, pushing the ball against the bar with his left hand before flapping it away with his right.
If it felt as though the curtain had fallen on Rooney’s England career after that utterly absorbing press conference the previous evening, here, suddenly, was the encore. England needed some much-needed composure and leadership, not to mention a bit of inspiration.
Rooney played in deep-lying midfield role against Malta but here he was in the more advanced position he used to occupy with relish, in behind the striker. And he went close with one effort that whistled only inches wide.
Indeed, had Daniel Sturridge not been so selfish Rooney almost certainly would have scored only four minutes after coming on. A simple square ball was all Rooney required. Sturridge, however, opted to go it alone.
Out of respect, Jordan Henderson immediately handed Rooney the armband, no doubt relieved to offload the responsibility after a less than convincing display prior to the captain’s arrival from the bench. And the sight of Rooney calming an ugly situation that was sparked initially by Gary Cahill’s foul challenge, but escalated when something appeared to upset Jesse Lingard, underlined the value he still has to the group.
There was cause for encouragement, most notably in the performance of John Stones.
But the first half ended without England managing a single effort on target and the match finished with Slovenia’s goalkeeper required to make only one proper save, from Lingard.
Ultimately England were fortunate not to lose. They were also lucky that Slovenia’s best player, Kevin Kampl, decided to adopt the role of ‘deserter’.
But a penny for the thoughts of Dan Ashworth, the FA technical director who watched his third manager in little more than three months from the press box.
England are still two points clear at the top of their World Cup qualification group but one imagines Ashworth and the FA hierarchy will remain undecided about whether Southgate is the right man. Off the pitch he has not put a foot wrong. On it, however, he has yet to make an impact.
That, of course, may not be fair when he has taken the job essentially as emergency cover.
‘It has been an incredibly difficult 10 days,’ he said afterwards, and understandably so. He also blamed the quality of the pitch for some of the mistakes, a valid argument. But the second part of his audition — the qualifier against Scotland and a friendly with Spain — is one he must now nail.
In this contest there were various issues that would have concerned him, not just a degree of recklessness but the fact that Henderson and Eric Dier were unable to command the midfield.
ENGLAND'S NEXT FIVE
It was a blind back-pass from Dier that nearly resulted in a goal for the home side. Dier succeeded only in sending Roman Bezjak clear, and while Hart did well to make the initial save, only the width of the post denied Kurtic before Bezjak could not react swiftly enough to the rebound and sent his shot wide
It was certainly enough to have Southgate on his feet. Dier’s booking minutes later did nothing to settle an England midfield that, at this stage at least, appeared to be lacking a bit of leadership. Southgate did not look amused.
Rooney, watching from the bench, must have been itching to get on. The fickle England supporters, having already called for ‘justice for Allardyce’, certainly seemed to be favouring his inclusion by chanting his name after 30 minutes of a disjointed opening half.
Slovenia very nearly scored moments into the second half, Ilicic executing a delightful one-two to skip past Stones only to then cut the ball back into space when he probably should have shot.
But the hosts went closer still from the corner that followed, with Hart making his quite stunning double save to deny Kurtic. If the ball looked dangerously close to crossing the line, it was not given.
Southgate responded by making a change up front, sending on Andros Townsend for the relatively ineffective Theo Walcott.
A back-pass from Henderson would nevertheless prove dangerous, with Hart again having to step up to block the shot from the rapidly advancing Ilicic.
Southgate did not have Allardyce’s lucky coin but he should be thankful for his goalkeeper.