In the end Frank Lampard delivered the draw that England just about deserved. There will be talk of a disallowed goal, a waved-away penalty appeal and missed chances but this was far from a convincing performance. Roy Hodgson will have targeted a win at the start of the night but settled for a point by the end of it.
It may be the latest version of a new-look England, the latest mix of the last remnants of the Golden generation with the newest new hopes but when all is said and done old habits die hard. England were profligate in front of goal, too physical, poor in possession and ultimately, with both the game and hope of victory ebbing away, bereft of creativity in the closing minutes.
The ball was nestling in the Ukraine goal after just ten minutes. It seemed Jermain Defoe had continued the momentum built with Friday’s 5-0 victory over Moldova. However the referee had already blown for a foul by the Tottenham player on Andriy Yarmolenko. While Yarmolenko did over react – clutching his face when Defoe’s flailing hand hit him in the neck – it was no less a 50/50 incident. There will be no sympathy from the Ukraine camp who will no doubt reasonably point to Marko Devic’s ghost goal when the teams last met in Donetsk during Euro 2012. They say revenge is a dish best served cold. This plateful has been in the freezer since June 19th.
Just before the break it seemed as if the Ukraine were about to dish up a double helping thanks to Yevhen Konoplyanka’s wonder strike. England were behind thanks to a move which started with an all to familiar schoolboy loss of possession. Lampard challenged Yarmalenko just inside the England half and as the Ukranian fell to the floor Lescott collected the lose ball. From this position a team comfortable and reliable on the ball would have built an attack. No so England.
With Phil Jagileka and Lampard available to easy passes, Lescott instead found the legs of Yarmalenko who was still getting up. The Ukranian accepted the gift with gratitude and the visitors succeeded where England failed. Three passes and the ball was on the other side of the pitch at the feet of Konoplyanka. He unleashed a curling right foot beyond into the top right corner beyond Joe Hart. It was a fantastic goal but its quality should not allow the error from which it sprung to be overlooked.
Tom Cleverely will not look back on the night with fond memories having missed two gilt-edged chances. He also hit the upright from a tight angle and his Manchester united team mate Danny Welbeck also hit the post, although in his case it would have been easier to score. England huffed and puffed through the second half but while there was little flair they kept going.
Six minutes from time Welbeck stumbled under a challenge of Denys Garmash but the penalty appeal was rightly denied. Minutes later the ball was on the spot after Yevhen Khacheridi handled Welbeck’s dinked effort. Lampard made no mistake. There was still time for more drama as captain Steven Gerrard was sent off after collecting two yellow cards for clumsy, unnecessarily physical challenges.
The control which England had supposedly taken of Group H has been quickly relinquished although the situation is not as bad as it could have been. Could Ukraine be to Hodgson as Croatia was to Steve McClaren? Perhaps not but while the names on the team sheet might be new the problems remain the same.
Ukraine (4-5-1): Ukraine: Pyatov, Gusev, Khacheridi, Rakitskiy, Selin (Shevchu 75), Tymoschuk, Rotan (Nazarenko (90+4), Yarmolenko, Garmash, Konoplianka, Zozulya (Devic 90).
Did you know… Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin was part of the USSR team which beat Bobby Robson’s England team at Wembley in 1984. Alex Oxlaide-Chaimberlain’s dad Mark was on the losing side.
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