England are heading to the World Cup and although they secured their passage with a late goal from Harry Kane, this was a performance that still had you wishing they could book their flights to Russia with Monarch.
Even the FA’s chief executive described them on Thursday as ‘brittle’, a team that does not travel well. And it would be foolish to let Kane’s strike, scored four minutes into second-half stoppage time, disguise the reality of what was another troubling encounter for Gareth Southgate’s side.
This stuttering performance would suggest elimination after only two games or, worse still, defeat to a team of the stature of Iceland.
Harry Kane marked his first game as England captain with a stoppage-time winner to send them through to the World Cup
The Tottenham striker grabs the badge on his chest after popping up with the winner for England against Slovenia
Kane jumps for joy as he heads to the corner flag to enjoy that winning feeling with the home fans on Thursday night
Harry Kane celebrates after finally putting England ahead at the death and sealing their passage to Russia 2018
Disgruntled England supporters flew paper aeroplanes onto the pitch in the second-half as their side struggled to entertain
MATCH FACTS, PLAYER RATINGS AND MATCH ZONE
England: Hart 6.5, Walker 6, Cahill 5, Bertrand 6, Stones 5.5, Oxlade-Chamberlain 4.5 (Lingard 64, 5), Henderson 5.5, Dier 5.5, Kane 7.5, Rashford 8, Sterling 6 (Keane 85, 6)
Subs not used: Butland, Smalling, Trippier, Maguire, Cresswell, Defoe, Livermore, Sturridge, Winks, Pickford
Goalscorers: Kane 90
Slovenia: Oblak, Struna, Mevlja, Cesar, Jokic, Rotman (Matavz 79), Ilicic, Krhin, Bezjak (Repas 72), Sporar (Birsa 55), Verbic
Subs not used: Belec, Koprivec, Skubic, Viler, Sirok, Kurtic, Mlinar, Bohar, Vetrih
Booked: Krhin, Mevlja, Rotman, Struna, Birsa
Referee: Felix Zwayer 6
Ratings by Rob Draper
Harry Kane pokes home from Kyle Walker’s cross to send England to Russia with victory. CLICK HERE for more from MATCH ZONE.
The pressure might be mounting on Southgate but it is not necessarily his fault. The more you watch this generation of England players, the more you see the flaws. There are some hugely gifted individuals, of course, Harry Kane being chief among them.
But a lack of quality in key areas, not least in central midfield, seems to breed a drop in confidence that makes this England side consistent only in delivering below-par performances.
When Southgate said he felt there were players in his party who did not really deserve to be there, he must have been referring to individuals struggling to command regular first-team football at their clubs.
And yet on Thursday night he started with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and replaced him with Jesse Lingard, proving those deficiencies are affecting his first XI never mind the wider squad.
Oxlade-Chamberlain actually kicked a water-bottle in frustration as he left the field, capturing the emotions of the majority of those inside a half-empty Wembley.
What made this all the more alarming for Southgate was the level of the opposition.
Harry Kane captained England for the first time in Thursday night’s World Cup qualifier against Slovenia
England and Chelsea centre-back Gary Cahill looks to clear the ball upfield during the opening stages at Wembley
Teenage England striker Marcus Rashford attempts to get a shot off as England search for the opening goal
England forward Raheem Sterling attempts to open the scoring with a long-range drive which flies over the bar
England left-back Ryan Bertrand lifts his head up as he looks to give the ball to a team-mate in a white shirt
England goalkeeper Joe Hart gets down low to take the ball away from Josip Ilicic as he looks to go round him
England and Manchester City right-back Kyle Walker lunges to get his foot on the ball in the opening 45 minutes
Slovenia held England to a goalless draw on their own turf last year but they are a bang average team and the fact that Southgate’s side were unable to breach their defence over 180 minutes is a real indictment of their own failings.
It could have been worse had Joe Hart been punished for what looked suspiciously like a foul on Josip Ilicic early in the first half, even if England did enjoy the majority of the possession and the better chances.
Three shots on target to Slovenia’s one was a poor return and a step backwards, even, from that similarly uninspiring display against Slovakia last month.
Quite what Southgate does to alleviate the problems remains to be seen. Glenn spoke on Thursday of the need to recruit a psychologist — another helpful contribution on matchday — while Southgate rather hoped listening to the wisdom of Sir Bobby Charlton and Alan Shearer might help.
But the manager needs to find a team and after a year and 11 games into the job he has roughly nine months to crack it.
The attendance on Thursday was down even on last month’s Slovakia game, with huge areas of empty seats in every section of the stadium. But what Wembley lacked in atmosphere England at least tried to counter with some early ambition, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all running purposefully at their opponents only for the final ball to let them down.
Tottenham and England midfielder Eric Dier looks to get his head on the ball during the first-half against Slovenia
Gary Cahill has his head in his hands as Jan Oblak clutches the ball close to his chest when another chance goes begging
Jordan Henderson is fouled on the edge of the penalty area by Benjamin Verbic but the free-kick comes to nothing
Marcus Rashford looks to take England forward but he is met by the hefty figure of Slovenia defender Andraz Struna
Liverpool’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was given a rare start in central midfield by Gareth Southgate on Thursday night
England midfielder Jordan Henderson is denied by Jan Oblak as the Slovenia goalkeeper gets down low to his left
Slovenia midfielder Rene Krhin became the first player to enter the book after a heavy challenge on Jordan Henderson
Harry Kane rises highest to get his head onto a corner kick but it comes to nothing for the home side
It left Kane starved of opportunities and by the 13th minute he decided to try his luck from distance with a decent effort, but not one that troubled Slovenia goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
Earlier this week Rashford indicated that, as a striker, he prefers a central role. Out on the left flank, however, he was probably England’s most effective attacker. Through the middle England again looked hesitant. Out wide, though, they were making more progress, not least in the form of the young Manchester United forward.
But this was far from convincing from England, even if Jordan Henderson did force a good save from the excellent Oblak.
For a team that needed to win to retain any hope of qualifying for the World Cup, Slovenia lacked urgency. That said, Roman Bezjak might have given the hosts a problem had he not tried to be quite so clever with a volley attempt that wasted a fine ball into the box.
But for Southgate this must have felt like a recurring dream, with the problems all too familiar. Clearly they were missing the creativity of Dele Alli as a foil to Kane. But England’s bigger issue is in the middle of the pitch, where a lack of invention makes them all too predictable and all too easy for opposing teams to counter.
Marcus Rashford finds the way towards the opposition goal is blocked as Miha Mevlja blocks his attempt on target
Joe Hart gratefully clutches the ball to his chest at the second attempt as Slovenia threatened an opener after half-time
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain kicks a bottle of water in frustration after being withdrawn for Jesse Lingard in the second half
Marcus Rashford chips the ball over Jan Oblak after being sent clean through on goal but the ball is hacked clear
England forward Raheem Sterling takes a tumble outside the penalty area but is told to get up by the referee
Dele Alli was sat in the stands as he served a one-match suspension for an obscene gesture in England colours last month
Raheem Sterling attempts to get a shot in on goal but is denied by the sprawling figure of the Slovenia captain Bostjan Cesar
Eric Dier and Henderson are too similar and their more defensive instincts undermine any desire this team might have to impose themselves.
The problem for Southgate is a shortage of options and, compared to previous years, a lack of true international quality.
Today the England manager does not have to wrestle with the conundrum of how one accommodates Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes and Frank Lampard in the same side. At the moment, Southgate would give his right arm for any one of them.
If Jack Wilshere ever gets fit enough to be considered for a recall, he might be the answer. But on Thursday night Chris Waddle’s suggestion of Jonjo Shelvey on the BBC was a measure of the situation facing Southgate less than nine months out from the World Cup.
England did threaten after the break. Rashford went clean through only to hit a weak chip that Slovenia were able to clear, while Sterling might have scored had it not been for the out-stretched boot of Bostjan Cesar.
The goal came as the result of Oblak’s first mistake of the night. A poorly-executed throw went straight to Kyle Walker, who responded by delivering a cross Kane was able to meet ahead of Miha Mevlja. It was a scruffy finish but another international goal for England’s skipper, all the same.
Gareth Southgate gesticulates on the touchline as he watches his England side struggle to break Slovenia down
There were huge rows of empty seats at Wembley on Thursday despite England’s World Cup spot being on the line