Ukraine v England: Roy Hodgson tries to deflect pressure from Rickie Lambert ahead of 'biggest game of striker's career'

The Southampton striker has scored two in two game

England boss Roy Hodgson is keen not to pin all his World Cup hopes on Rickie Lambert's fairytale international career continuing.

With Danny Welbeck suspended and Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Andy Carroll all ruled out by injury, Lambert will be pitched into the biggest game of his career tonight as England take on Ukraine in Kiev.

Whilst victory would take Hodgson's side within touching distance of an automatic slot in next year's finals, defeat would hand the initiative to their hosts, who still have another match against San Marino to play.

Hodgson could not wish for Lambert to be in more confident mood after becoming the first England player to score in his first two games since Peter Taylor 37 years ago.

But he also knows the run cannot last forever.

"I would like to play down Rickie for his own sake because it is almost a fairytale that you get selected at 31 having played in the lower leagues, then come on in your debut and score a fantastic centre-forward's goal," Hodgson said.

"On top of that you then play an important game, score one, set up two and look as though you have never been outside an England set up in your life.

"That is some achievement.

"I am bit worried we are going to hang a bit too much on him (tonight).

"The important thing is that he plays his part in the team and makes certain he doesn't let us down in any way.

"Who knows? He might surprise us and add a third to the fairytale, but if he doesn't he is still going to be a player England will get some use out of in the future."

It is barely credible that a player who had never been involved at any higher level than League One just 26 months ago should be charged with such responsibility.

Yet it is the very journey Lambert has undertaken to reach his present status as national hero that convinces Hodgson he has the mentality required.

"Rickie's mentality must be very strong," Hodgson said.

"Surely he hasn't just become a talented footballer who has good touch on the ball, works hard for his team and has a good understanding.

"Yet people, including me, have been watching him play and passing him over.

"You have to be very strong mentally to suffer that many knock backs but still keep believing in yourself, to keep saying 'no-one is singing my praises but I am still a good player'."

PA

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