David Beckham played like his old self today, after a number of international games where he turned in a mediocre performance - unusual for the England captain who in the past has dazzled fans with his skills. Many people were expecting a hat-full of goals for England but while this didn't materialise, the victory keeps them one point ahead again of second placed Poland, in UEFA World Cup Qualifying Group 6. It should be pointed out that fans could not be faulted for expecting numerous goals
after Poland put eight past Azerbaijan at the weekend. The downside to the match was the caution given to Michael Owen who will now miss the clash against Wales in September due to suspension.
Azerbaijan's goalkeeper did his job tonight in preventing England tally up the goals. He made a fantastic save in the 16th minute from Rooney's header. Time and again Kramarenko stopped England's attacks, so frustrating for those at St James' Park. It seemed that Lampard would get the opener for England but his header went wide after the ball appeared to be heading for the top corner. Owen, who was looking for another goal tonight to move into tied fourth place in the list of leading England scorers (he currently has 29 goals from 68 games), failed to put away a header. England had another chance to put the ball in the opposition's net in that particular play but the ball hit the post after making contact with Beckham.
With England dominating play, Azerbaijan's chances were limited but the visitors did look lively up front at times, especially through Gurban Gurbanov, who failed to
capitalise on a chance when John Terry slipped. Michael Owen appealed for a penalty, indicating he had been held, but the spot-kick wasn't awarded. Gerrard forced another great save from Kramarenko. With the first half drawing to a close, Beckham received a yellow card for leaving and returning the pitch, to put on his boot, without permission. Owen did put the ball in Azerbaijan's net in the first minute of time added on in the first half, but the goal was disallowed as Beckham who played the ball in from the right, was ruled offside.
Six minutes into the second half, England got a much deserved goal, when Beckham played the ball effectively to Rooney, who ran at Azerbaijan's defence to deliver a cross that was cleared by Malikov. Gerrard was in the right place to seize the ball from Malikov's clearance and put England ahead.
There was another strange reason for a booking tonight when Owen was cautioned for waving his hand at the ball! This action did not affect England who extended their lead to two, thanks a wonderful goal by their captain. Lampard found Beckham, who after chesting the ball down, saw his chance to put the ball away in the left of the net.
All was not over though, when Nadir Nabiyev broke through England's defence, and it took an excellent save from Robinson to keep the visitors from getting a consolation goal.
Despite the boos from fans at the close of the first half, England supporters must have left St James' Park happy with their team's performance and a further three
points in the bag. Two players did move up the England record lists tonight - Beckham made his 80th appearance making him the tied eighth most capped player with Gary Lineker, and Gary Neville moved up to tied 13th place with Sir Tom Finney.
Robinson #1, A Cole #3, R Ferdinand #5 (King 77 mins - #14), G Neville #2, Terry #6, Beckham #7 (Defoe 84 mins - #18), J Cole #11, Gerrard #4, Lampard #8, Owen #10, Rooney #9 (Dyer 77 mins - #15).
Subs Not Used: James #13, Carragher #12, Jenas #?, Heskey #17. (Full Squad)
Kramarenko #1, Amirbekov #2 (V Guliyev 46 mins - #15), Hajiyev #3, Hashymov #4, Kerimov #8, Melikov #7, Sadygov #14, Abdurahmanov #6, Bahshiev #5, G Gurbanov #9
(Ponomarev 76 mins - #10), Nabiev #11 (Ahtyamov 76 mins - #17).
Subs Not Used: Hasanzade #12, Abbasov #13, K Guliyev #16, I Gurbanov #18.
England Goals: Gerrard (51 mins), Beckham (62 mins).
England Cautions: Beckham (42 mins), Owen (55 mins)
Azerbaijan Caution: V Guliyev (57 mins)
Referee: Paulo Manuel Gomes Costa (Portugal)