WAYNE Rooney’s second-half free-kick proved decisive as England maintained their 100% record in Euro 2016 qualifying with a slender win over 10-man Estonia.
The Manchester United and England captain, on the occasion of his 99th cap, curled home the set-piece on 74 minutes which was helped into the net by Estonia goalkeeper Sergei Parejko.
A misfiring England struggled to make their superiority count in Tallinn, even after home captain Ragnar Klavan received a second yellow card shortly after the interval.
But Rooney’s 43rd international goal, taking him to within six of the all-time scoring record, was the only difference between two nations separated by 63 places in Fifa’s world rankings.
A third straight success in Group E gives Roy Hodgson’s side the perfect platform to reach the tournament in France while four wins in a row represents England’s best run of form in five years.
5 – England have kept five clean sheets in a row for the first time since autumn 2006. Lockout.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 12, 2014
Hodgson made three changes as Raheem Sterling dropped to the bench with Liverpool team-mate Adam Lallana coming in while Fabian Delph received his second cap at James Milner’s expense and Leighton Baines replaced Kieran Gibbs at left-back.
Estonia, who beat Slovenia last month and lost to Lithuania in midweek, made a lightning start with Blackpool’s Sergei Zenjov going close inside 30 seconds when his shot deflected behind off Gary Cahill before ex-Motherwell striker Henri Anier volleyed over after his initial shot was blocked by Delph.
It served as an early wake-up call for England, who eventually settled to establish a measure of control and enjoy the bulk of the possession.
Although their fans being in fine voice in the 9,600 capacity crowd, Estonia were camped in their own half as England patiently probed in search of an opening.
Jack Wilshere’s scooped pass over the top picked out Rooney, who fired a right-footed volley over the crossbar before failing to connect with a dangerous near-post delivery from Baines.
With Wilshere, Rooney and Lallana heavily involved in the intricate build-up play, England’s free-flowing tempo and midfield rotation in the diamond formation caused problems for the hosts.
Delph slashed wildly off target from Rooney’s lay-off and Wilshere poked a shot into the side netting from a tight angle as the breakthrough appeared likely.
It took 44 minutes for Estonia stopper Parejko to make his first save, comfortably gathering Jordan Henderson’s swerving effort at the second attempt.
Despite applying incessant pressure, a lack of end product in the final third proved frustrating for Hodgson as Estonia weathered the storm until the break.
One problem exposed tonight is lack of goals in that England midfield. They don't even like to shoot.
— Jonathan Northcroft (@JNorthcroft) October 12, 2014
Rooney curled the resulting free-kick over the crossbar 20 yards out and, thereafter, it was a test of England’s ability to breach even sterner resistance from their hosts.
Hodgson, an agitated presence in the technical area, turned to Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the hour mark before introducing Sterling minutes later as Delph and Henderson made way.
The changes, though, failed to inspire the Three Lions to capitalise upon their numerical advantage as their struggles to create clear-cut chances and provide a potent final ball continued.
Oxlade-Chamberlain mistimed his leap to connect with an inviting centre by Calum Chambers – but the stubborn Estonians were finally undone when Rooney’s free-kick crept in at the near post.
Wayne Rooney: Has now scored 10 goals in his last 12 competitive matches for England #eng
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) October 12, 2014
England approached the closing stages with caution but almost increased their narrow lead when Rooney hooked over at the back post from Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross before being denied by Parejko in stoppage time.
However, one goal was enough in the Baltic region as Hodgson’s side nervously crossed the finishing line to claim an important but unimpressive victory, which cemented top spot ahead of next month’s clash with Slovenia at Wembley.
England win 1-0. Three wins out of three but you won't sell many dvds of this. Dull and mediocre for the most part.
— Phil McNulty (@philmcnulty) October 12, 2014
Substitutes: Lindpere 6 (Vassiljev 45′), Ojamaa 4 (Zenjov 80′), Kruglov 3 (Vunk 83′).
Not used: Aksalu (GK), Londak (GK), Barengrub, Dmitrijev, Saag, Hunt, Kams, Artjunin, Teniste.
Booked: Klavan (28)
Sent-off: Klavan (48)
Substitutes: Oxlade-Chamberlain 5 (Delph 60’), Sterling 5 (Henderson 64’), Lambert 3 (Welbeck ’80).
Booked: Baines (45), Henderson (53), Wilshere (86)
Goals: Rooney (73)
Referee: Marijo Strahonja (Croatia)