Gareth Southgate admitted England owed Joe Hart for the point which keeps the team top of their World Cup qualification group following a 0-0 draw against Slovenia in Ljubljana.
Hart, allowed to leave Manchester City on loan to Torino by Pep Guardiola earlier this season, produced three outstanding saves against Srecko Katanec’s team, including a second-half stop which saw him push the ball onto the bar and claw away in the same movement.
England’s point, combined with Scotland’s 3-0 defeat in Slovakia, ensured that interim manager Southgate can take his players into next month’s Wembley clash against the Scots with a two-point lead at the top of Group F.
And Southgate insisted that Hart’s performance was crucial as England extended their unbeaten qualification record to seven years.
“We owe our goalkeeper really for getting a point,” Southgate said. “He was fantastic.
“He’s at his best when he’s calm and composed, it’s something we’ve discussed and this week his manner has been very calm.
“He was at his best tonight. It was a brilliant save, we didn’t start either half well and it’s an outstanding save that gets us a point.”
Hart crashed into the post when making his eye-catching save early in the second-half.
And the goalkeeper admits he will not know the extent of the damage caused until the morning.
England player ratings vs Slovenia
Joe Hart – 9 out of 10
England’s man of the match on the night. The Torino ‘keeper made a number of fantastic saves included a world-class stop just after half time.
Kyle Walker – 5 out of 10
Couldn’t get forward as much as he would have liked and didn’t stand out defensively either.
John Stones – 5 out of 10
Unusually sloppy in possession and never looked completely comfortable when defending Slovenian attacks.
Gary Cahill – 5 out of 10
In Rooney’s absence was supposed to be one of the leaders in the team but his partnership with Stones is still lacking understanding.
Danny Rose – 5 out of 10
A couple of attacking forays but also left exposed defensively once or twice.
Eric Dier – 4 out of 10
Another guilty of losing possession too easily and nearly gifted the hosts an opening goal.
Jordan Henderson – 5 out of 10
Not the all-action performance we saw against Malta but not for the lack of trying. Unclear whether he is England’s long-term leader.
Dele Alli – 6 out of 10
Tried to create and was England’s best attacking outlet but was missing that final ball on a couple of occasions.
Jesse Lingard – 5 out of 10
Didn’t see much of the ball but never stopped running. Moved more centrally when Alli went off and had more of an influence.
Theo Walcott – 3 out of 10
Another below-par display before he was replaced by Townsend. Will have to keep up his Arsenal form if he is going to be picked for the next squad.
Daniel Sturridge – 5 out of 10
Had a couple of half chances but was mainly restricted to long-range efforts and his decision making was poor at times.
“My body is in pieces,” Hart said. “I don’t know what happened for the save, but I landed on the frame of the goal. I don’t think I’ll be able to get up in the morning.
“It was my best game for a while. I was asked to do quite a bit but that was down to a few errors by us.
“It is a difficult result for us tonight but we have to look at the bigger picture of qualification. They had some chances and we have to give a lot of respect to them. It was an interesting game and we take 0-0.”
With Wayne Rooney starting the game on the bench – the captain was introduced as a 73rd minute substitute – England struggled to carve open the Slovenians.
But Southgate insisted that the point must be viewed as a point gained in the wake of the upheaval of Sam Allardyce’s departure as manager.
“I can’t thank the players and support team enough for the backing I have had,” he said. “We wanted six points but we have taken over a mess and had to steady the ship. We are on track.
“The overall objective is to qualify so long term that could be an important point.
“Everyone can see we could be better, but their chances came from our mistakes or set-pieces.
“We can play better, for sure. Would I have been happy with a point before the game? No, but it’s a very important point in the context of qualifying from the group.”
Southgate, meanwhile, urged Jesse Lingard to learn quickly after the Manchester United midfielder was booked for a late clash with a Slovenian opponent.
“I’m told he (Lingard) reacted to someone raising their hands at Marcus Rashford,” Southgate said. “That’s something he’s got to cut out.
“There’s a danger you get a red card in this sort of game when there’s inconsistency in a lot of the decisions, there’s even more of a risk.”