Wayne Rooney: Booed by fans, backed by boss – is England captain's time up?

Rooney's worth to England was subjected to another forensic examination in the build-up to Southgate's first match in charge - and the 30-year-old was given a strong vote of confidence by the new manager.

Southgate sympathised with the sole focus on Rooney and admitted he could not understand the audible frustration of England's fans when he shot wildly off target near the end.

He said: "It's fascinating to get an insight into his world over the last 10 days. Every debate seems to focus on him. The onus on him is enormous, the criticism of him is, at times, unfair and yet he ploughs on and plays with pride and represents his country with pride."

Southgate compared Rooney to long-term England servants such as John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole as he added: "They kept turning out and really put themselves on the line. Some other players have not put themselves forward at those moments and withdrawn from squads when the going has got tough.

"Those guys are the people that really desperately wanted to play for England again and again and again and put their necks on the block. Wayne falls into that category."

Southgate's faith was clear as Rooney was kept on as captain and started against Malta, and all the indications are that he will keep his place in the next qualifier in Slovenia on Tuesday.

The Manchester United man may not be the force he once was but he is a player and personality who never hides irrespective of any personal struggles for form and his determination to always be involved was in evidence once more at Wembley.

This was, however, another indifferent performance that once again gave the impression that Rooney is increasingly being shoe-horned into England's plans rather than acting as a fulcrum for a manager's policy.

Here Rooney, who is 31 later this month, was operating in a deep-lying midfield role spraying "Hollywood" passes left and right to the flanks but not providing any killer creativity, other than two shots which brought saves from Malta's heroic keeper Andrew Hogg.

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