England’s pleasant stroll only marred by John Terry injury
Moldova 0 England 5
At least when Andorra played England, the men from the principality tried their best to kick their opponents. Kazakhstan had the occasional good moment, including a goal at Wembley. But of all the small fry whom the national team have been obliged to step over in qualification for tournaments in recent years, poor old Moldova looked the weakest of the lot.
The long road to Brazil for Roy Hodgson's team started in the most humble of surroundings which could not, even at a stretch, be described as the slightest bit intimidating, especially when the home team conceded a penalty in the first three minutes and spent much of the game stumbling around on their own bumpy pitch.
This was England's biggest victory away from home since they beat San Marino 7-1 in 1993, and if there was a minor inconvenience it was the injury to John Terry, who came off the pitch with two minutes remaining, with all three substitutes already used. Hodgson does at least have no shortage of cover at centre-back for Tuesday's World Cup qualifier against Ukraine at Wembley.
For all Moldova's inadequacies, England teams of the past have made hard work of these kind of games, not least against the aforementioned Andorra in qualifying campaigns under Steve McClaren and Fabio Capello. They should certainly have scored more goals but they could barely have had more possession had they been assigned their own ball for the evening.
Steven Gerrard was dominant in the first half to the extent that with his team three goals ahead, Hodgson felt sufficiently confident to give his captain a break and replace him at half-time. Frank Lampard scored the 24th and 25th goals of his England career, moving him up to 13th on the all-time goalscorers list above Geoff Hurst. This was a fill-yer-boots night and Hodgson said that 5-0 did not flatter England.
On to Ukraine at Wembley, which will at least ask a few more searching questions of Hodgson and the 4-2-3-1 formation he has adopted. His record so far is six wins and two draws, including that penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy, which is not a bad start and no matter how poor the opposition were last night it was one of those away trips into the relative unknown that can fill a manager with dread.
Hodgson left Michael Carrick on the bench and kept faith with Tom Cleverley in the No 10 role just behind Jermain Defoe and he saddled up Lampard and Gerrard together in midfield for yet another shot at making the partnership work. This was no more a glimpse of the future than the decaying Soviet-era tower blocks that loom over the little Zimbru stadium, but that did not concern Hodgson.
His team were a goal ahead within three minutes and it quickly became apparent that England were dealing with a team of some limitations and a fair degree of nervousness at playing in front of an expectant home crowd. There are only six international teams ranked lower than Moldova in Europe and all that can be deduced about that half a dozen is that they must be truly dreadful.
The pitch was ridged and unpredictable but if anything that worked in favour of the more technically accomplished English players. In midfield, Gerrard and James Milner took the ball from their opponents with embarrassing ease. Nevertheless, the home team were unfortunate to concede a penalty when Simion Bulgaru was judged to have handled Cleverley's shot.
It was a tough decision for Moldova to take, although England should have had two more in the first 11 minutes and missed both chances. The penalty was stroked home with Lampard's customary reliability and the onslaught continued: Defoe failed to get a good connection on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's cross from the left on nine minutes and then the Spurs striker had his shot saved when Gerrard played him in two minutes later.
Oxlade-Chamberlain looked dangerous every time he was on the ball and Joe Hart kicked towards him at every opportunity. England pushed up hard all over the pitch, a full-court press that asked serious questions of their opponents' willingness to receive the ball under pressure and there were mistakes aplenty by the men in blue. Also, strangely, five handball decisions went against the Moldovans in the first 25 minutes.
Gerrard hit a short free-kick rolled to him by Lampard just over the bar. Glen Johnson struck one with his less-favoured left foot which was saved by Stanislav Namasco. Then, on 29 minutes, the Liverpool right-back picked out Lampard at the back-post for a rare headed goal.
Defoe scored the third three minutes later. Had Namasco watched any videos of the Spurs man he would know that Defoe will shoot if he happens to be in the same post code as a set of goalposts. He hit his shot early and hard and embarrassed the Moldova goalkeeper at his left post.
It was a better performance from the Moldovans in the second half although not one which could be said to offer much in the way of a goal-threat to England, who had Carrick on in place of Gerrard. The kindest thing you could say for Ion Caras and his players was that they did enough to thwart the kind of really heavy defeat that would have caused embarrassment to their country.
That and the fact that Hodgson's team relented somewhat helped the home side. Theo Walcott came on for Oxlade-Chamberlain, but the tricky surface did not suit Walcott's attempts to run with the ball at blistering pace. Danny Welbeck replaced Defoe and played a part in the fourth goal for which he, Cleverley and Walcott opened up a clear sight of goal for Milner to score his first international goal.
On his first competitive start for England, Leighton Baines capped a tidy display with a well-struck free-kick from the left that hit Alexandru Gatcan in the wall and looped over Namasco and into the goal. It was the first goal scored by England from a free-kick since David Beckham did so against Ecuador at the 2006 World Cup finals.
Moldova should really have had a penalty for a clumsy lunge on Eugeniu Sidorenco by Joleon Lescott but that was about all they missed out on. England played the last few minutes with 10 men in Terry's absence, although it really was one of those games when being one man lighter was incidental.
Booked Moldova Bulgaru. England Johnson.
Man of the match Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Match rating 7/10.
Possession: Moldova 42%. England 58%.
Attempts on target Moldova 4. England 11.
Referee P van Boekel (Neth).
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