Tim Rich: Rickie Lambert selection exposes England's dearth of talent

Hodgson chooses 31-year-old to lead attack and also breaks predecessor's rule by allowing WAGs into hotel

As the debate over the lack of quality available to England managers swirled around him, Roy Hodgson put his faith in a 31-year-old centre-forward who has played two seasons in the top two divisions.

Hodgson's decision to name his starting line-up before England face Moldova was a bold and confident one. However, with Daniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney both injured, the choice of Rickie Lambert as England's central striker emphasised the dearth of talent available to him. Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott will play either side of Lambert at Wembley this evening.

Jermain Defoe is available but not fully fit and Hodgson pointed out he has not started a single Premier League game this season for Tottenham, a club that has spent more than £100m in the summer on non-English recruits.

Hodgson added that Sturridge, who in the absence of Luis Suarez has scored in every Premier League game for Liverpool this season, was unlikely to be fit to play in what should be a pivotal fixture against Ukraine on Tuesday. Steven Gerrard, his captain for club and country, confirmed that Sturridge had begun last Sunday's game against Manchester United carrying a thigh injury, which has since worsened.

"It would be wrong if I didn't admit the loss of Rooney and Sturridge is a major blow," Hodgson said. "Even before the weekend those two were very much in my mind. But this is an opportunity for the man who has been sitting back trying to take their place, a chance to get the shirt and shine. It is a chance for Kyle Walker [who will also start] and Lambert to make it clear they should be there, they deserve to be there and they have the quality to be there."

Off the pitch, Hodgson allowed the England players a visit from their respective wives, girlfriends and family, who were permitted to stay the night at England's pre-match base, The Grove Hotel in Hertfordshire.

In stark contrast to his predecessor, Fabio Capello, who operated a no-WAGs policy, Hodgson was comfortable with the arrangement, even on the eve of a World Cup qualifier.

An FA spokesman said: "No rules have been broken."

Lambert may have been playing for Rochdale in the bottom tier of English football in 2006 when the so-called "golden generation" was being heavily backed to win the World Cup in Germany but he scored 15 Premier League goals for Southampton last season and found the net with his first touch as an international in the 3-2 win over Scotland at Wembley last month.

He is the first Southampton player to start a competitive game for England since James Beattie a decade ago. However, since Beattie was chosen to face Liechtenstein in a European Championship qualifier at Old Trafford, the quality of the competition was even more dubious than Moldova, who have not beaten anyone other than San Marino in a serious fixture for three years.

Nevertheless, what would concern Defoe is that Hodgson chose Lambert, not just because the Tottenham forward was carrying an injury but because Lambert is a regular starter for his club.

"It is partly the fact that Lambert turned up fully fit and partly because he has played three matches," is how the England manager explained his choice. "It was a straight choice between Lambert and Defoe. Jermain hasn't played for Spurs and came here with a slight injury."

Asked if Sturridge would be fit for what since the draw was made had always appeared England's most difficult fixture – Ukraine in Kiev's Olympic Stadium in four days' time – Hodgson remarked: "I am not enormously optimistic. I am not confident."

Speaking after the FA's new chairman, Greg Dyke, said that few people thought England had "a realistic chance of winning the World Cup in Brazil", Hodgson argued that the proper time for a discussion was once the qualification campaign for the 2014 finals was over.

"However, we cannot deny that in certain positions we have enormous competition and there are certain positions where the competition is less," he said.

"But to refer back to the 1970s [a decade in which England failed to qualify for successive World Cups] does not help anyone.

"It is now 2013 and the question we have to ask is are we certain that the talent we do produce is going to be turned into the Gerrards and the Lampards of tomorrow?

"Coaches are entitled to believe in their players and I don't need to be cowed by figures from the past. I am with a good group of players who have the wish to do well. I fully believe they will."

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