Slovenia 0 England 0: Brilliant Hart saves lacklustre Three Lions

Slovenia's Valter Birsa (left) and England's Dele Alli battle for the ball. PIC: PA
Slovenia's Valter Birsa (left) and England's Dele Alli battle for the ball. PIC: PA
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Joe Hart’s exceptional display prevented England from falling to a first qualifying defeat in seven years as Gareth Southgate’s ponderous side were given a scare in Slovenia.

The build-up was dominated by the bold – and perhaps belated – decision to leave out-of-sorts captain Wayne Rooney on the bench, but it was another jilted player that rose to the fore in Ljubljana.

Hart, unfancied by Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola and shipped out on loan to Torino, produced a string of crucial saves to frustrate Slovenia and secure England a 0-0 draw in a tough World Cup qualifier.

Just 10 minutes were on the clock when Eric Dier, picked ahead of Rooney, twice gifted the hosts possession in a matter of seconds, with his goalkeeper denying Roman Bezjak before Jasmin Kurtic hit the post.

England failed to muster a shot on target in the first half and that stuttering display continued after the break, with Hart producing a stunning save to push a Kurtic header onto the crossbar and then away.

The 66-cap goalkeeper was again required to frustrate the impressive Josip Ilicic and interim manager Southgate turned to Rooney with 17 minutes left.

The substitute came close from the edge of the box soon after his introduction but there was to be no Hollywood ending, with the Three Lions having to settle for a fortuitous point.

This was England’s second trip to Ljubljana in the space of 16 months, but their 100 per cent record in this fixture looked unlikely to continue from the outset.

Lax passing and poor decision-making showed how much the intensity was effecting the visitors and in the end they were happy to return home with a point.

Hart admitted his body was “in pieces” after a string of fine saves for his country.

He said: “It is my best game for a while, it was hard to say.

“My body is in absolute pieces, I will struggle to get up tomorrow.

“The lad has got across and flicked it on, and I just did everything I could to keep it out.

“I don’t know what happened, I have only just seen it now on camera – it hurt though. I landed on the frame of the goal.”

Hart continued: “I was asked to do quite a bit, but it was down to a few errors from us.

“But we can all improve, we are a young team and have dug in, in an intense atmosphere and taken a point.

“On the night, it was a difficult result, but we have to look at the bigger picture, which is trying to qualify for Russia.”

Hart felt this could yet prove to be a valuable point.

“They had some chances, we dominated the game, but that was down to how they set up,” he added. “A lot of respect to what they have done tonight, they have dug in and Jan Oblak, whom I am a massive fan of, had a fantastic game in goal.”