By David Mardiste
Wayne Rooney struck with a 74th-minute free kick to give England a 1-0 win over 10-man Estonia in a Euro 2016 Group E qualifier on Sunday and move to within six goals of Bobby Charlton’s record tally of 49.
Rooney curled home his set-piece from the edge of the penalty area after Raheem Sterling was fouled and although goalkeeper Sergei Parelko got his hands to the ball it went in off the post.
The England skipper, playing his 99th international, has now scored 43 times for his country, one behind Jimmy Greaves who is third on the all-time list.
Estonia were reduced to 10 men for the second successive qualifier when their captain Ragnar Klavan was sent off for a second yellow card after 49 minutes for fouling Fabian Delph, leaving them with an even tougher task.
However, they managed to frustrate England for long periods before the visitors scored to maintain their perfect start to the campaign with a third successive win.
Rooney could easily have moved past Greaves’s record and gone closer to Gary Lineker’s 48 goal-haul as well as Charlton’s record tally, but missed two good chances in the first half, and one in stoppage time when he shot straight at Parelko.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game, but it was a good win,” Rooney told ITV Sport.
“The pleasing thing tonight is that we have a young team and we hung in there and saw the game out well.”
England manager Roy Hodgson said he thought his team played some “excellent” football in the first half but failed to convert chances.
“That led to an air of frustration in the second half,” Hodgson said. “When you dominate the opposition and get so many opportunities in and around the box you have got to take the chances, at least one, and we didn’t.
“Still we did in the second half, and now we have won all of our last four games and kept five clean sheets in a row and that’s not to be sniffed at.”
Estonia’s best chance fell to Sergei Zenjov in the first minute when his deflected shot hit Joe Hart’s side netting, and apart from a few isolated raids, most of the match was played in the hosts’ half.
Estonia’s Swedish coach Magnus Pehrsson, whose team have now won one and lost two of their qualifiers, said defeat was a “big disappointment”.
“Although we played with one less for almost the whole second half, it felt that England were not that dangerous. Then they scored from a free kick but it felt like that they should have done more to win the game — but that is what you call football, so I am left with really mixed emotions.”
England lacked accuracy in front of goal with Rooney and Danny Welbeck misfiring until the late goal, but Hodgson denied he intended replacing Rooney with Rickie Lambert before Rooney scored.
“We were going to put Rickie Lambert on but we were discussing which player would come off and hadn’t made our minds up,” he said.
“It was more likely to be Danny Welbeck and in the end it was him because he took a knock.”