IN-FORM Harry Kane scored 13 goals in September and will lead the line for England who can secure direct World Cup 2018 qualification with a victory over Slovenia at Wembley.
England have never lost to Slovenia (W4 D1) but their last meeting was a 0-0 draw in this qualifying campaign last year.
Their record against Slovenia is strong without being particularly spectacular. Of their four wins three have come via a one-goal margin. The two countries met at the 2010 World Cup where England edged a 1-0 win in South Africa — Jermain Defoe finding the net.
Last October these sides battled out a 0-0 draw in Ljubljana. There were just six shots on target recorded between the two sides that day and England’s two strikers — Theo Walcott and Daniel Sturridge — were subbed in 62 minutes.
England’s 2-1 win over Slovakia last time out was the first time in this qualification campaign they have conceded the first goal.
Their dominance at the top of World Cup qualifying Group F can be sealed with victory. England boast 20 points from eight games, having won six and drawn two outings. Their two blips came in draws at Slovakia and Scotland, while at Wembley they still boast a 100 per cent record.
However, conceding after three minutes at home to Slovakia last time out exposed that familiar England weakness through the heart of defence. The Three Lions haven't been properly tested during this qualifying campaign – Scotland’s two goals at Hampden in the summer were free-kicks. But Gareth Southgate needs to develop a strong backbone to his side if they are to progress to the latter stages of Russia 2018.
Harry Kane and Josip Ilicic (3 each) sit joint-top with four other players in the goalscorers charts for qualification Group F.
Harry Kane has enjoyed a blistering September in front of goal and will expect to continue his prowess into October. The Tottenham striker, who didn’t score a goal for club or country in August, bagged 13 last month.
Two of those came in England’s 4-0 rout over Malta and since then he has scored doubles against Everton, Dortmund, West Ham and Huddersfield, while bagging a hat-trick in the 3-0 win at APOEL Nicosia. Kane enjoys scoring multiple goals. He’s only scored a single goal in two of the last 11 games in which he has found the net.
Joe Hart remains England’s No.1 keeper even though he has conceded more league goals (13) than his counterparts Jack Butland (11), Jordan Pickford (12) and Fraser Forster (7).
Gareth Southgate’s continued faith in Joe Hart has surprised many, especially with the talented crop of English keepers vying to knock the West Ham loanee off the top spot.
Hart’s England career has been a contentious one. He was overlooked for World Cup 2010 selection, only for Rob Green and David James to suffer nightmare performances.
Yet a year later his gaffe earned Switzerland’s a 2-2 draw at Wembley. He was eventually shipped out of Manchester City (on loan at least) by Pep Guardiola after an unconvincing outing at Euro 2016 which included his mistake in the defeat to Iceland. And in June he was twice beaten by Griffiths' strikes in Glasgow. Hart needs a solid performance here.
Defoe has scored just once for Bournemouth this season, having netted 16 times for Sunderland and England last term.
He made an instant impact when he returned to the England squad last March, scoring after just 21 minutes of the World Cup qualifier against Lithuania. Since then he has bagged just two professional goals.
Defoe earned a free transfer from relegated Sunderland to Bournemouth in the summer after his impressive Premier League tally. But the 34-year-old’s goalscoring form has deserted him.
One goal at Hull last term and the winner in the 2-1 win over Brighton this season is all Defoe has to show for the last five months since making that England return.
He is in the squad for Thursday and while he is unlikely to start could come on as a substitute. Defoe needs to prove he is relevant for Southgate heading towards the World Cup.