Liverpool's legend has Lennon singing from same song sheet

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The Independent Football

Considering it is a question that has dominated the England football team for the best part of a decade, the answer proved to be simple. Can Steven Gerrard play in the same team as Frank Lampard? Yes, if the opponents are as woeful as Slovakia.

Maybe it was because the Slovaks had other things on their mind – they do have the derby of international derbies against the Czech Republic on Wednesday – but just about the only thing they did right last night was bring the odd couple together. For at least last night, the Morecambe and Ball of international football formed a partnership that worked.

That, it has to be said, vindicated the England manager Fabio Capello. Gerrard has been the nearest thing to an unstoppable force for Liverpool in recent matches but if anything seemed likely to take the irresistible out of the Kop's Superman it was playing him on the left flank. Which just goes to show how much the consensus knows kryptonite when it comes to football.

Instead of the normal lacklustre fare provided in friendlies at Wembley, England warmed up for the World Cup qualifier against Ukraine this week with a performance rich in promise. Indeed, but for injuries to Emile Heskey, Carlton Cole and Peter Crouch (much more of this and Geoff Hurst will be getting a recall), the night could not have gone much better for Capello and a lot of that was due to Gerrard.

The Liverpool captain is no Ryan Giggs (or even a Stewart Downing when it comes to hugging the touchline) but last night his performance was impressively effective. He did not attempt to beat his man on the outside but when he moved inwards, as his first instinct told him, his marker Peter Pekarik followed. Wayne Rooney and Ashley Cole raced into the space, which dragged more defenders out of position and, in turn, gave Gerrard room. It was so simple that any team should have fathomed it but Slovakia's back four were so tortured that the British banking system seemed robust by comparison.

With this kind of freedom Gerrard gave the sort of bravura 45 minutes that might be de rigueur at Anfield but happens less often than a new England kit at Wembley. His link-up play in the first half with Rooney and (praise be) Lampard was outstanding and must have had the Ukrainians watching in a Hertfordshire hotel cringing at the prospect of trying to contain him on Wednesday.

Certainly the Slovaks did not have a clue in the opening 20 minutes in which England took the lead and should have been at least 2-0 up. In the seventh minute Gerrard chested impeccably to Rooney and then darted to take the clever return pass. You know things are going your way when Emile Heskey is lucky in front of goal, and when Gerrard crossed to the near post the Aston Villa striker somehow bundled the ball in.

Gerrard was withdrawn with Ukraine in mind for the second half and presumably the same can be said for Aaron Lennon, who operated on the opposite flank to Gerrard with mixed results. Before last night's game the verdict on the Tottenham Hotspur winger would have been: pace, skill and oh my God not another wayward cross. This morning we are in much the same place.

As early as the first minute he tore past the hapless Marek Cech and almost found Heskey with an instant cross. Give him time to think, however, and he becomes nonplussed, most obviously in the 10th minute when the fabulous Rooney gave him space only for him to squander it by finding the one part of the area that bisected the runs of Heskey and Gerrard.

Lennon remains an enigma but his speed and dribbling does unsettle defenders and on a night when the performance encouraged hope it would be churlish to criticise too harshly. For the first time in a long while England had a potent threat on both flanks.

Anyone for tennis?

Say what you like about England, but if the players matched the merchandisers the World Cup would be a formality. Yesterday they unveiled their 40th kit since 1966 and the shirt is so retro it hurts. Collars and short sleeves, the new must-have, would be ideal at Wimbledon or the Open and would have had fashionistas salivating but for one problem: Fred Perry got there 40 years ago.

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