Michael Owen celebrated his 50th international cap with a captain's performance that brought England victory in their UEFA EURO 2004™ Group 7 meeting with Slovakia.
The striker's two goals, one a penalty, the other a header, reversed the visitors' first-half advantage and ensured that Sven-Göran Eriksson's side remained two points behind leaders Turkey with a game in hand. Remarkably the game at Middlesbrough FC's Riverside stadium mirrored the one in Bratislava last October when Slovakia scored first - only to lose.
Janocko shocks England
The visitors, indeed, could have gone in several goals ahead at the break. As it was Vladimír Janocko's 31st-minute free-kick, drifting over the heads of the England defenders and away from goalkeeper David James, was all they had to show.
They missed further chances through Igor Demo and Middlesbrough's Szilárd Nemeth and Owen, becoming the youngest Englishman at 23 to reach his half-century, then went to work, fully justifying the decision to name him captain in the absence through suspension of David Beckham.
Owen might have scored in the first minute when Steven Gerrard sent his Liverpool FC colleague clear but his shot clipped Miroslav König and slipped wide of the post. In the 62nd minute Owen took on the entire Slovakian defence and went down in the area. The penalty was awarded and Owen was coolness personified from the spot
England then suffered some frustration as Gareth Southgate saw a second penalty appeal denied and Frank Lampard had a goal ruled out through offside. However, the home team did not dwell on those disappointments, fully confident they could prise out a winner from a night full of incident.
It came in the 73rd minute, an emphatic header from Owen that followed a pin-point cross from Gerrard whose second-half influence was just as crucial as that of his club-mate in swinging the game England's way.
Three minutes after his second goal, Owen was twice close to his hat-trick, first with a side-footer and then with a header after the ball ballooned up off the goalkeeper's boot. This time Owen could do no better than push his attempt against the bar.
No hiding place
Afterwards, Owen admitted he should have been going home with the match ball, saying: "I missed some chances in the first half but thankfully what I have got inside me that does not allow me to hide meant I kept going and that got me the two goals."
Eriksson said he was happy for his captain. "As a way of celebrating his 50th cap his performance could not be bettered," he said. "We were a little unlucky with their goal but I felt we could have attacked a little more in the first half and been more aggressive."
His team visit Turkey in October, but first go to F.Y.R. Macedonia on 6 September. Slovakia, who cannot now qualify, welcome the Macedonians four days later.