Jermain Defoe claimed his goal, claimed the headlines and England claimed the points.

But although this World Cup qualifier against Lithuania was a stroll, it did not mean they had to play in quite so pedestrian a fashion.

Sometimes, as manager Gareth Southgate later said, you kind of know you are going to win the match - and that is fair enough against opposition ranked 107th in the world, directly below Ethiopia, Mozambique and Mauritania - and this one will be filed under the heading "job done".

But no more that that.

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Except for Defoe. Four years after his last appearance for his country, the 34-year-old was recalled and broke the deadlock, unpicking the most packed defence.

There was also the sight of Defoe leading out the team with Bradley Lowery, the terminally ill five-year-old who is suffering from a rare form of cancer, and with whom he has forged a bond.

No wonder Defoe spoke afterwards about having to keep his emotions in check.

His inclusion showed, also, that Southgate is bringing a pragmatic edge to team selection. For all the desire to promote youth, to change things, there was a recognition that against opposition who would effectively line up in a 9-1 formation and stay compact, England needed a player with a poacher's instinct to lead the attack.

Age is no bar.

Defoe is a veteran, but he remains the best finisher in this England squad and so he started the match, with Southgate turning to Jamie Vardy later on, when he knew Lithuania would have to try to push on and claim an unlikely equaliser - to "break their lines" and get in behind.

And so Vardy, 30, got the second goal. England's scorers were both thirtysomethings, a reminder to Wayne Rooney, at 31, what can still be done.

Rooney, out injured for these matches, is heading towards the end of his England career - or so it seems - and needs to find a new lease of life, even though he has said his international career will end at the next World Cup, if he makes it there.

As things stand, that appears less and less likely.

So Defoe's selection showed good game-management from Southgate and there were other pluses. Adam Lallana again demonstrated how important he is to his country, Raheem Sterling highlighted how dangerous he can be, John Stones and Michael Keane forged an intriguing, youthful central defensive partnership, and Kyle Walker again impressed.


Not that anyone should get carried away. That has happened time and time again, and it should be remembered that the last time England faced Lithuania at Wembley, in a Euro 2016 qualifier only a couple of years ago, they put them away 4-0 and secured a seventh successive win, after the 2014 World Cup debacle with claims that a feel-good factor had returned.

It soon went.

But there was another positive. With Azerbaijan scoring in Baku against Germany, albeit in a 4-1 defeat, England are now the only European nation in this World Cup qualifying campaign yet to concede a goal.

That breeds confidence, but let us be honest, it also speaks to how weak Group F is and how easily England should qualify, even if they do have trips to Scotland and on the artificial pitch in Lithuania to come.

It means, more than ever, that performances matter. England are building towards Russia, with Southgate, interestingly, also observing that having shown encouraging signs with their 3-4-3 formation in the midweek friendly loss against Germany, they have another system, the more usual 4-2-3-1, to turn to.

Except that that observation itself highlighted a problem. England look like they have defenders and forward players to rely on and promote, but central midfield is a big problem.

Against Germany, it felt a step too far for Jake Livermore and here again Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain did not seize his chance. Eric Dier is better as part of a three-man defence, so Jordan Henderson cannot come back soon enough.

Others - maybe James Ward-Prowse? - need to step up.

Sterling did that in creating Defoe's goal, as he showed speed and strength to ease past marker Egidijus Vaitkunas to pull the ball back. Defoe and Dele Alli were queuing up, and it was the former who side-footed powerfully high into the net for his 20th goal for England and his first since a previous World Cup qualifier against San Marino - 1365 days ago.

It was also Defoe's first England goal at Wembley for seven years.

He had already come close, latching on to Lallana's clever pass to force a smart block by goalkeeper Ernestas Setkus, but England, despite their dominance and possession, laboured.

It was quiet, very quiet and became even soporific until, on half-time, there was a jolt, as Nerijus Valskis latched on to a powerful header forward to nod the ball goalwards, past Joe Hart, who had come charging out of goal, with Stones scampering back to clear off the line.

Valskis was offside, but the flag stayed down.

The main danger, though, came from Lithuania's tackling, with Alli twice crunched late by Vaidas Slavickas.

Southgate realised he needed to change it up, and on came Vardy and Marcus Rashford to provide more pace, as the game was stretched. Ross Barkley, disappointingly, remained on the bench.

It was a sharp move inside the Lithuania penalty area, with Lallana's shrewd first-time pass releasing Vardy, that led to the second goal. Vardy calmly steered his shot around Setkus.

The striker should have claimed his second, when he was put clear by Rashford, but wastefully lifted his shot over the cross-bar. It meant that the scoreline remained modest, as was the performance, but England had the win.

And Defoe, appropriately, had the headlines.