Gareth Southgate has hailed Jermain Defoe’s professionalism and said he would have ‘put his house’ on the 34-year-old scoring against Lithuania.
The England boss handed Defoe a start at Wembley last night and it took the Sunderland striker just 21 minutes to repay his faith, turning Raheem Sterling’s cross into the top corner.
Defoe played 60 minutes as England cantered to a 2-0 win to stay unbeaten at the top of Group F in the World Cup qualifiers.
His replacement, Jamie Vardy, added the second goal.
Southgate faced some criticism for picking Defoe for his squad, but said that the veteran had been a great example for his younger players.
He said: “I would have put my house on him scoring at some stage today.
“He’s had a really positive impact on everybody. We’ve selected him on form.
“We’ve got really good competition for places. We need to have that.
“For the likes of Jermain and Michael Keane to come in and play as well as he has done has been a real bonus for us.
“It’s a great moment for him.
“He was thrilled to be back involved in the squad.
“He’s enjoyed his week immensely. He’s been a good senior professional to have around the team, both in terms of the way he’s trained, his professionalism which has been great for the younger players to see, and his finishing in training and then today, which we expected really.”
Defoe will be 35 when the World Cup finals in Russia comes around next summer, but Southgate refused to rule out picking one of his more prolific scorers in the Premier League.
Defoe will fall down the pecking order when Tottenham star Harry Kane returns from injury, but, with the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Andy Carroll struggling with persistent problems, Southgate knows the potential value of a player who keeps himself fit and among the goals.
He said: “I think we’ve got to look every time we get together as to who is in form.
“I don’t know if we can have a distinct pecking order, because players who are playing well deserve the opportunity.
“If we are going to be successful, we have to have that competition for places.
“The reality is we will always lose players to injury. We’re never able to pick a full cohort, so it’s important we can call upon the likes of Jermain and he can have the impact he does like he did today.
“If he scores like he is in the Premier League, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be.”
That prompted the inevitable question, whether Defoe may have to leave Sunderland should they be relegated from the Premier League this season.
Southgate was diplomatic but hinted that would probably be the case.
“I walked into that... I guess the ideal world for all our players is they are playing regularly at a high level,” said the former Middlesbrough boss.
“The flip-side is we don’t have a huge pool of players to pick from.
“We have to balance off a few different things.
“I can’t constrain myself on selection entirely, but I know ideally what I’d like to have.
“His performances and his goalscoring form this season have counted for him.”