It is entirely in keeping with Roy Hodgson’s rotten luck of late that tonight something should sour a straightforward, solid win over Moldova, and so it came to pass when Danny Welbeck earned a booking that means he is suspended for Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against Ukraine.
It was such a needless yellow card, awarded by the Slovakian referee Ivan Kruzliak, supposedly for Welbeck ignoring his whistle that the game had been stopped. There were just moments between the referee’s intervention for offside, towards the end of the first half, and Welbeck’s subsequent shot at goal but the punishment came nonetheless and its consequences leave England very light indeed on strikers for the trip to Kiev.
First it was Wayne Rooney who withdrew from the squad, then Daniel Sturridge who, out of tonight’s game, is “less than 50-50” to be fit for Tuesday’s game, Hodgson said. Jermain Defoe is still nursing an injury that he was carrying when he reported last week. It leaves just Rickie Lambert again as the fit centre-forward and, having scored again tonight, he was brought off by Hodgson with 20 minutes remaining in order that no similar fate befell him.
Elsewhere the news was a little better. Ukraine beat San Marino 9-0 while Montenegro drew 1-1 with Poland. The latter was a result that leaves England on top on goal difference from Montenegro who also have 15 points having played a game more. Ukraine are just behind in third place with 14 points.
Defeat is not an option in Kiev if England are to finish top of the group but at least they are still in a position to decide their own fate. When Group H was flashed up on a screen at Wembley after full-time last night, with England top, a cheer broke out among the fans still in the stadium.
This was a good victory for England with two goals for Welbeck, both of them nicely-taken that move his international goalscoring record up to eight in 18 caps – very respectable indeed. This was a game when England had an awful lot of the ball and not a great deal of chances but they took them well, starting with Steven Gerrard who scored the first and then Lambert with the second.
There are the spirited, well-organised, park-the-bus performances one occasionally sees from one of the low-ranked opponents who visit Wembley in the course of qualification. And then there is the kind of performance you saw from Moldova tonight when much of it screams Sunday league, especially the arresting sight of substitute Alexandru Onica who entered the fray sporting a fresh black eye.
Still every side like Moldova with ten, sometimes 11, players behind the ball needs putting away and it was to Hodgson’s relief that England did it early and decisively.
It was Ashley Cole and Welbeck who won possession on the left side and quickly attacked for the first goal, Cole slipping the Manchester United man in to get to the byline. Welbeck’s cross was taken by Frank Lampard who glanced up to see Gerrard appearing quickly at his right shoulder and rolled the ball into the captain’s path. The shot was beautifully struck with the laces and just inside Stanislav Namasco’s right post.
The 123rd best international team in the world were beaten from that point on. It just remained a question of how many England could pile on. By that point Lambert had already had two decent chances. In the 24th minute Jack Wilshere embarked on one of his trademark runs, a shift up of pace, a swerve past the lamentable Victor Golovatenco and a shot that Namasco did well to save.
Lambert scored his second goal for England on 26 minutes, a neat header after Namasco had saved Theo Walcott’s shot from the right. The ball had been recycled to the winger by Phil Jagielka. If Moldova’s calamitous defence had a complaint it was that Gerrard kicked Golovatenco up the backside with a miscued flying volley. It was no less than the Moldova No 3 deserved for his first half performance but also probably warranted a free-kick.
In the growing pressure for the third goal, Wilshere found himself the victim of a very clumsy challenge by Simion Bulgaru who even showed a little stud in the process. Once England scored their third, Hodgson could start to think about who he could rest with Tuesday’s game in mind. Unfortunately he was not quick enough when it came to Welbeck.
The Manchester United man took his goal well in injury-time at the end of the first half, nudging Lambert’s very sweetly struck ball from the halfway line past Namasco with his first touch to open up the goal to score. Minutes earlier he had been booked.
The suspension for the Ukraine game is a blow to Hodgson for many reasons, not least because he has made Welbeck an integral part of his side since taking the job in May last year. Not much tips the England manager into a rage but he was on his feet protesting to the fourth official in the moments after the decision. Gary Neville also pursued the officials off the pitch at the end of the first half.
It was the Lambert-Welbeck combination that provided once more for England’s fourth. A ball in from the Southampton man down the left channel and then a beautifully improvised chip by Welbeck – more of a dink, really – over the goalkeeper Namasco, whose momentum prevented him from reaching up and putting a glove on the ball.
Leighton Baines had replaced Cole at half-time, with Hodgson mindful of the fact his first-choice left-back was also one booking away from a one-match suspension. Just before the hour, Wilshere was summoned to the benches and replaced by Ross Barkley for his England debut at the age of 19.
Barkley turned and ran at goal with 15 minutes remaining having been picked out by Gerrard’s ball down the middle and the young Everton midfielder’s shot was just wide. It was a good moment for him and he clearly has something that suggests he should have a good international career.
Lampard had a shot kicked over by Namasco. Kyle Walker hit a volley just over. Substitute James Milner missed a simple back-post chance. But England did not add to the four they scored within the first 50 minutes. Hodgson and his players go on to Ukraine on Monday depleted but if they can avoid defeat there and beat Montenegro and Poland at home next month then everything will have worked out fine in the end.
England (4-2-1-3): Hart; Walker, Cahill, Jagielka, Cole; Lampard, Gerrard; Wilshere; Walcott, Lambert, Welbeck.
Subs: Baines/Cole ht, Wilshere/Barkley 59, Milner/Lambert 70
Moldova (4-4-1-1): Namasco; Bordian, Epureanu, Armas, Golovatenco; Antoniuc, Georghiev, Bulgaru, Dedov; Ionita; Sidorenco.
Subs: Ionita/Onica 19, Bulgaru/Suvorov 57, Georghiev/Pascenco 85
Booked: England - Welbeck
Man of the match: Welbeck
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