Jermain Defoe scores the opening goal for England against Lithuania at Wembley. Photo: Eddie Keogh, Reuters
Jermain Defoe scores the opening goal for England against Lithuania at Wembley. Photo: Eddie Keogh, Reuters
Jamie Vardy added a second for England on Sunday. Photo: Carl Recine, Action Images via Reuters
Jamie Vardy added a second for England on Sunday. Photo: Carl Recine, Action Images via Reuters

LONDONEngland striker Jermain Defoe made a scoring return to the international stage and substitute Jamie Vardy added a second goal as the hosts laboured to a 2-0 victory over Lithuania in World Cup qualifying Group F on Sunday.

Veteran Defoe, making his first appearance for nearly three-and-a-half years, fired lacklustre England ahead in the 21st minute at Wembley, but Gareth Southgate’s team struggled to finish off a Lithuania side who are 93 places lower in the Fifa rankings.

England survived a couple of worrying moments, and had to wait until the 66th minute to double their lead when Defoe’s replacement Vardy finished neatly shortly after coming on.

It was hardly an emphatic performance, but the result kept England top of Group F with 13 points from five games, five more than Slovenia, who visit Scotland later on Sunday.

England’s plodding pace allowed Lithuania a relatively comfortable opening 20 minutes on a balmy afternoon.

England completely dominated possession, but barely tested Ernestas Setkus’ goal as their passing lacked pace.

It took 34-year-old Sunderland striker Defoe to inject some spark, first latching on to Adam Lallana’s clever reverse pass to force a fine save from Setkus and then firing England ahead with his 20th goal for his country.

Raheem Sterling burst towards the byline and squared the ball for Defoe to plant a shot past Setkus – his first England goal since bagging two against San Marino four years ago.

The lively Defoe flashed another snap-shot just wide, but England toiled away bluntly against Lithuania’s yellow wall.

The hosts had a scare on the stroke of halftime when a clearly offside Nerijus Valskis headed towards an open goal under pressure from goalkeeper Joe Hart, but his weak effort was cleared off the line by a retreating John Stones.

There was no discernible change of gear at the start of the second half as fans ambled back to their seats.

Lithuania had a half-chance when Vykintas Slivka’s deflected shot was comfortably gathered by captain Hart.

England responded with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s 25-metre effort clawed away by a flying Setkus.

Defoe then made way for Vardy – with Marcus Rashford replacing Sterling – and the Leicester City striker made an instant impact, scoring with a neat finish from Lallana’s pass.