Can they afford this time to leave him on the bench, and thus give a chance to other strikers in a match that will only serve to consolidate our place in the finals next year?
England badly need a genuine goal-scorer in their line-up; if Rooney plays and gets one, it proves nothing. We know what he can do, what he’s good at and how important he is to England.
But we also need to look at the supporting cast that manager Roy Hodgson has selected. Harry Kane is one of them. With 19 League goals this season, he should be one of the first names that Hodgson pencils in.
There is also Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge. Either would fit in nicely with Kane, so why not experiment with an alternative to Rooney?
The problem for Hodgson is that he needs a convincing victory to restore supporters’ appetites for international football. The Barclays Premier League is such compelling entertainment that international fixtures are now too boring.
Fans have little faith, or even interest, in an England side well short of quality. The Three Lions, quite rightly, are expected to beat Lithuania comprehensively, so wouldn’t it be a good opportunity to look at other players? Especially as, five days later, they face Italy in a friendly in Turin.
That will be the time for a full-strength side. A chance to see how much progress they have made since the World Cup exit to the Italians in Brazil last summer.
But Lithuania? What’s worrying about this match is that Hodgson showed little imagination with his squad selection. Harry Kane was in, but what about Charlie Austin, of QPR, and Saido Berahino, of WBA?
These are the kind of young players that Hodgson should be looking at in preparation for a life at a different level. Right now, English football is massively entertaining, compelling viewing week after week. A great product that unfortunately glosses over the hard facts that technically we are way behind the best teams in Europe.
That was shown by the exit from the European competitions of Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Everton.
Manchester United’s victory over Liverpool was highlighted by two goals from Juan Mata that were little classics. Could you imagine an English striker showing the level of artistry and technique that the little Spaniard demonstrated for his first great goal.
But if we have players who can aspire to that level, then we should give them a chance of proving themselves. Welbeck and Sturridge shine in the Premier League, but don’t score enough goals. Kane does and should get his reward alongside one of them.
Why did we need to see Rooney bully the Lithuanians. Save him for Italy. The United skipper needs three more international goals to equal Bobby Charlton’s record total of 49.
He’ll get them eventually, but what would scoring against Lithuania prove? Far better to see how one of his understudies performs when he gets on the big stage. Kane or either Surridge or Welbeck should be a partnership with enough power to win the match.
Kane has done everything asked of him and yet was nearly released by Tottenham at the start of the season because he wasn’t high profile enough. They wanted him out to bring in a star name. Now he’s worth £20,000,000 and, if he keeps scoring, could eventually go the same way as Gareth Bale – abroad ,where the real talent is.
The big striker can finish, he has great movement, is strong and can hold up the ball for others to join him. And he is far more effective when playing with a partner.
Spurs used him up front alone against Chelsea in the Capital Cup final, and John Terry put him in his pocket. But give Kane a partner and it’s a different matter.
Can’t Hodgson see that fans want to be entertained, given something new, not the same old line-up for whom winning 4-0 would mean very little?
Kane must play and leave Rooney out. Let’s see Hodgson try something bold and imaginative. He will learn little from beating Lithuania, so let’s look forward with hope. Let’s leave the boredom behind. We badly need something different.