Frank Lampard's penalty against Ukraine just papers over the cracks for England
England 1 Ukraine 1
Not that anyone would have wanted to remind Roy Hodgson as England chased an equaliser last night, but the last time the national team lost a qualifying game for a major tournament at Wembley it was the dark days of the end of Steve McClaren's regime. And we all remember how that one ended.
Hodgson was spared a disastrous defeat by Frank Lampard's goal from the penalty spot with three minutes left but by the end of the match, with Steven Gerrard sent off and England unsure whether to go for the win or protect the point they had, there was an unsettling sense of chaos about the performance. The previously benign looking Group H has bared its teeth just two games in.
Ukraine, who England will play in Kiev in September next year, are now, on paper at least, in the box seat for the one automatic qualification place in the group. Yes, there are many games to be played, and plenty of twists and turns but the tension goes up a notch and the margin for error is reduced. Such is life with the England team, although Hodgson will know as much by now.
It is not unusual for England to drop points at home – Fabio Capello's side drew with Montenegro and Switzerland at Wembley in qualification for Euro 2012 – but it was the ragged nature of the performance that will cause concern. Flaky in defence and ineffective, until the closing stages, in attack, this was not the great flagship performance for Hodgson's England.
Perhaps that is not surprising when the manager was missing 12 players through illness and injury who might otherwise have been in the squad. But that is the nature of international football, a team has to cope with the absences and the changes in personnel from month to month and last night England struggled.
His first game at Wembley, and just his third cap, was a rough night for Tom Cleverley who missed two good chances in the first half, then hit the post and was substituted just after the hour. That said it would be wrong to load too much blame on the 23-year-old's shoulders. The No 10, playmaker role weighed heavy on him and he cannot be written off on the basis of one bad match.
So too Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who fought his own battle to get into the game. Of greater concern were the lapses in concentration from Joleon Lescott – first of all to give the ball away for the goal scored by Yevgen Konoplyanka and then for a messy challenge on Roman Zozulia that earned him a booking in the second half. Those two were the pick of a Ukraine team which had only two changes from the starting line-up that lost to England in Donetsk in June.
From Gerrard there was a performance of contrasts. He never hid, especially when the chips were down, and it was him as much as anyone who forced England on in search of the equaliser. That said, he should have been given a straight red card for an elbow on Ruslan Rotan that earned him his first booking, and the second lunge at Denys Garmash was careless. Fortunately for Hodgson, Gerrard only misses the home qualifier against San Marino.
England reconvene next for that game at Wembley on 12 October and the trip to Warsaw to face Poland four days later. Hodgson will have a different set of problems by then but he will know nothing less than six points will do.
He changed his team last night without using Michael Carrick, who has played just 45 minutes of the two opening qualifiers. Instead he switched to a 4-3-3 formation for the closing stages with Danny Welbeck, who won the penalty, and Daniel Sturridge entering the game as substitutes to play either side of Jermain Defoe. It eventually got England the goal that on balance they deserved. In the first half, a ludicrous decision by the Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir denied Defoe a goal. The Spurs striker burst forward into the box and hit a great shot inside Andrei Pyatov's near post but in flinging his arms back as he began his run he struck Andrii Yarmolenko in the throat who made the most of it and Cakir disallowed the goal.
Had it been allowed to stand it would have settled England's nerves although at that point they scarcely deserved it. Even before Ukraine scored, Rotan had a shot blocked by Gerrard behind Joe Hart. Yevgen Selin, an impressive left-back, crossed for Garmash who could not direct his shot under the bar. For the goal, Lescott gave the ball to Yarmolenko, who was rolling around on the ground trying to win a foul when he realised he had possession. Within three passes it was at the feet of Konoplyanka who cut in from the left away from Gerrard and unleashed a fine shot beyond Hart.
By then, England's best chances had fallen to Cleverley. On 34 minutes, Defoe's misdirected header dropped to him in the area and he struck his shot straight at Pyatov when he should have scored. Just before half-time he was too casual with a flick from Lampard's cross and the ball went wide. He struck the post moments later.
Hodgson ran through the changes in the second half but there was not much at his disposal. Not with Theo Walcott out with illness, Peter Crouch ignored for selection and Andy Carroll injured. Cleverley was the first to go after the hour to be replaced by Welbeck who was once again pushed out to his less-favoured left side.
England were not creating chances. Glen Johnson cut in from the right and had a shot pushed around the post by Pyatov. Hodgson switched Leighton Baines for Ryan Bertrand, although it was not immediately clear why. Welbeck hit the post on 82 minutes and the pressure increased. It was the Manchester United striker's shot that was handled by Yevgen Khacheridi for the penalty.
There is no-one England would rather have in these situations than Lampard whose 26th goal for England takes him level with Bryan Robson in 12th place in the all-time goalscorers' list. Gerrard was dismissed after that and with his captain in the tunnel and Ukraine on the attack, Hodgson looked distinctly relieved at the end with the point.
Man of the match Konoplyanka.
Match rating 8/10.
Referee C Cakir (Tur).
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