James Lawton: A night to face the reality of a still relentless decline for England

England avoided defeat in a frenzy of desperate effort. They struggled

Steven Gerrard said the other day that miracles do happen in football and one of them could be an England victory in the next World Cup. He might also have said that it was already time to light the candles and put down the prayer mat.

Last night he received a red card and a fresh insight into the scale of the challenges he faces as an ageing captain of England.

England avoided defeat in a frenzy of desperate effort, and if you had to give them marks for resolution it was impossible to say much of anything kind about their ability to shape one of their most important games in this World Cup qualifying campaign.

For so much of their ordeal they struggled under the glow of a magnificent strike by Yevhen Konoplianka – and if they escaped in the end with a point it was one which they snatched like something they might have grasped in the wind.

On a sultry night in Donetsk a few months ago Konoplianka was the junior partner in a firm which threatened to utterly undermine the first encouraging strides of Roy Hodgson's regime. Last night, though, he carried himself as the chairman of the Ukrainian board with a goal that was as exquisite as it was devastating. For England, it was not so much a wake-up call as a bolt from the sky. It punished sloppy defence and left the England manager with a new appreciation of the ambushes that might come on the road to Rio and the World Cup.

There were plenty of alarms for him in that Euro group game, including a Ukraine goal that was wiped away by official error, but the most disconcerting memory before Konoplianka's superb eruption after 39 minutes last night was the brilliance of the man attacking on the right side of midfield, the beautifully balanced Andriy Yarmolenko. Last night his first major contribution came when he flopped down somewhat melodramatically after Jermain Defoe threw out an arm before sending a fine shot past Andriy Pyatov.

England were indignant but the Turkish referee was sure, as most witnesses had to be, that the England player had pushed his hand into the Ukrainian's throat, and soon enough the official was handing Defoe a yellow card for a similar offence against the veteran defender Antoliy Tymoshchuk. It was also true that Gerrard was fortunate to avoid heavier punishment than a yellow card when he brought his arm down heavily.

What wasn't in doubt in that early going was that England were a lot freer with their hands and arms than their feet. Though Tom Cleverley had three chances to score, the ease with which Ukraine moved on Joe Hart's goal was consistently alarming.

This, certainly, was not the kind of English authority that was promised in the formal dissection of the 141st-ranked Moldova last Friday night. Ukraine, though a mere 45th, did not look like a team who had come ready to submit to any idea that they were inferior – a notion surely dismissed by their coach, the legendary and combative Oleg Blokhin. The great man of the old Soviet team famously offered a critic outside after England's perilous performance in Donetsk and plainly some of that boldness has touched his team.

It was a state of mind that was no doubt buttressed by the memory of quite to what extent Ukraine had held the edge in rhythm and creativity in that last game. For much of last night that difference between the teams was maintained, however much physical pressure England applied.

Cleverley was full of ambition and heart, and produced a splendid effort from an acute angle on half-time, but Hodgson needed more than he could provide as the prospect of England's first World Cup defeat at Wembley in 12 years moved more sharply into focus.

Hodgson also brought off Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as he sent in Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge. Welbeck might have scored – and might have won a penalty, but still it was at no cost to the sense that the Ukrainians remain a devastating threat to England's World Cup campaign.

Welbeck does, though, have a special presence around the goal, as he showed with a brilliant strike against Sweden in the Euros, and it was his persistence that won the penalty which gave Frank Lampard another chance to show his nerve from the spot. This he did, after some brief agonising, with huge authority.

It was the best that England could have hoped for on a night when they not only failed to make any sense of their No 3 ranking in the world, but also provoked a thousand doubts about the chance that in two years they will re-announce themselves as serious contenders for the World Cup.

This, if ever there was one, was a night for England to face the reality of still relentless decline.

 

Get Adobe Flash player

 



News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn