Lampard still in search of goal to silence doubters

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The Independent Online

At 6.30am yesterday one inspired England supporter entered the lead in the Father of the Year award when he woke his son on his ninth birthday with two tickets for last night's game in Cologne and the joyous news that there would be no school today. On his 28th birthday, Frank Lampard received a similar gift from Sven Goran Eriksson.

With performances that reflected England's form in the opening two games of Group B to perfection - poor - Lampard could count himself lucky to have remained in Eriksson's starting plans once the England manager had made it apparent on Sunday that Owen Hargreaves was required to restore balance to midfield against Sweden. The Bayern Munich holder, though so unpopular with the England support and appreciative of the fact that Steven Gerrard's place was on loan, was not the only member of the engine room under pressure last night.

Lampard's inclusion at the apex of Eriksson's latest diamond discovery when both he and Gerrard were on a booking and therefore one yellow card away from missing the first knock-out stage could be viewed as a vote of confidence from Eriksson or a telling warning, depending on your level of cynicism. Gerrard had provided England's only individual highlight of the tournament before last night, with his finish against Trinidad & Tobago, and again showed the clinical edge Lampard has so far lacked in Germany in the 85th minute here. In a straight fight with Lampard for one adventurous central midfield berth, Gerrard would be the favourite to claim it. Was his exclusion, therefore, a well-judged rest from Eriksson after a full year of football or an order to Lampard to prove himself? If it was the latter, then the birthday boy can be satisfied with his contribution if less enamoured with the end result.

The inclusion of Hargreaves in the water-carrier's role made famous by Eric Cantona's derogatory description of France's World Cup-winning captain, Didier Deschamps, enabled Lampard to assume a similar role to the one he plunders so successfully at Stamford Bridge. His instinctive relationship with the man who usually plays off his left shoulder at Chelsea, Joe Cole, was also a contributory factor in a man-of-the-match performance from the latter.

Lampard dictated the flow of England's first half, ensuring it remained at an intense, positive level for th opening 34 minutes with mainly one-touch, forward passing and then placing his foot on the ball and spreading it across the defence as he endeavoured to remove the sting from Sweden's response to his Chelsea colleague's wonder strike. His lesser influence on the second half was symptomatic of the collective display rather than a waning in his form, although the issue of whether he can drive a team during troubled times - as Gerrard so often does for Liverpool - remains to be answered.

While the Hargreaves-Lampard partnership did succeed, the latter player will undoubtedly arise this morning and again wonder what has happened to his usual accuracy in front of goal. Prolific at club level, England's leading goalscorer in the qualifying campaign has been uncharacteristically wasteful in Germany and the continuation of that theme last night ensured Sweden were not out of sight by the break.

At the start of day 12 of the World Cup Lampard had released more shots than any other player in the tournament, but a 38 per cent accuracy rate told the true story. Here he sent the first lay-off from Wayne Rooney wide with a left-foot shot on the run and placed an inviting chance straight at the goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson following a powerful individual run in the sixth minute. While unfortunate to see a dipping drive from 25 yards sail narrowly over the crossbar after a neat exchange with Joe Cole five minutes before the interval there was less of an excuse when he chipped straight at Isaksson on the stroke of half-time and none at all when he was picked out by a perfect delivery from Rooney in the 12th minute but steered a terrible header wide with his shoulder when unmarked 10 yards from goal. It required Gerrard to come to England's rescue late on, ensuring Lampard's birthday celebrations may have been somewhat confused.

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