After the easy victory over Moldova, England
seemed to start this match under the impression that it would be just
as simple to beat the Ukraine.
But this was a different kettle of fish entirely and their
lethargic start was almost punished beyond repair as the visitors were
quickly out of the blocks.
Oleg Gusiev's early effort took a deflection off of Alex
Oxlade-Chamberlain and the ball looped to the far post, which it
clipped, forcing Joe Hart to scramble across goal, well beaten.
It was a warning for the home side that they had to buck their
ideas up. Tom Cleverley,
so impressive against Moldova, was finding this game a lot tougher as
he struggled to find the space and freedom he had enjoyed on the
previous Friday. Gradually
though England got to grips with their task and both Steven Gerrard
and Frank Lampard used all their experience and worked tirelessly to
change the direction of the match.
It was one of those games where both sets of
forwards always looked likely to score against defences that certainly
showed nerves and some hesitancy early on.
Ukraine had come to Wembley with a definite plan to have nine
players back at all times and rely on swift breakaways.
England's problem was to find a way round this solid wall and
at times they found it very difficult.
Up front Ukraine's Yevhen Konoplyanka had tremendous pace and
in the midfield Anatoliy Tymoschuk showed all the experience of a man
with 121 caps to his name.
He shackled Cleverley brilliantly and it was to be a night of learning
for the Manchester United midfield player.
Again the visitors went close when a low cross into the box was
hacked away by Glen Johnson.
It took England ten minutes to get into the contest but at that
time they so nearly took the lead with their first real chance.
Jermaine Defoe picked up possession on the left, held off two
challenges and cut inside to rifle a tremendous shot past Andriy
Pyatov. It looked a superb
goal, but the crowd went from joy to despair as they noticed the
referee had given a foul against Defoe and the goal was ruled out.
Replays showed that it was a very harsh decision and it wasn't
to be the last the official gave on the night.
The theatrical collapse by Andriy Yarmolenko after Defoe's
challenge had hoodwinked the ref, and the Ukraine penchant for falling
to the floor at the slightest touch was to incur the wrath of the
crowd on more than one occasion.
To rub salt into the wound Ukraine
then almost scored themselves when Cleverley lost possession and when
the ball ran loose only a fine clearance by Gerrard from the goalline
prevented the shot going in.
Phil Jagielka then had a header from a Gerrard corner at the
other end and on the half hour Denys Garmash was left unmarked in the
box. Luckily his volley
went over Joe Hart's crossbar.
At this point the game was wide open and on 34 minutes great
play by Johnson, James Milner and Gerrard set up Defoe, who
unselfishly nodded the ball across goal to the incoming and unmarked
Cleverley. The youngster
just had to score surely?
No! Somehow he contrived
to fire his shot against the keeper's legs when it seemed much easier
to score. Four minutes
later the visitors took the lead with a wonderful goal.
Konoplyanka picked up possession out on the left
and as Gerrard went to close him down the Ukrainian cut inside and
curled an unstoppable right-foot shot into the far top corner giving
Hart absolutely no chance to save.
Sometimes you have to hold up your hands and say what a
wonderful goal, and this was one of those occasions.
And if truth be told Ukraine deserved the lead at that point
It was ironic that the one player for England who
was not having the best of nights was the one who had all the chances
fall at his feet.
Cleverley had two more chances in quick succession before the break,
the first coming following a right-wing cross, when he scuffed his
shot from a good position.
Then, shortly afterwards he found himself in another great position
only to see his shot strike the outside of the post.
Credit the lad for continually getting into the mix, but on
another day he could have had five goals!
The Ukraine came out for the second half more
determined than ever to hold on to what they had and England were
struggling to find the guile to break them down.
Johnson fired in a dangerous cross that was deflected for a
corner and then Lampard shot wide after good work by Defoe.
On 54 minutes Gerrard was booked after leading with his elbow
in a challenge with Ruslan Rotan and his team were just starting to
show frustration at the way things were going.
But to be fair they kept plugging away, probing and trying to
pass the ball around the defenders.
A good clearance by Leighton Baines saved the day when a rare
attack from Ukraine threatened and Hart saved a weak header from a
corner. On 62 minutes Roy
Hodgson made his first change, bringing on Danny Welbeck for the
unfortunate Cleverley, and the other Manchester United player
immediately looked lively.
On 69 minutes Johnson made one of his typical
runs and was so unlucky to see his low shot to the far post turned
away by Pyatov's hand at the last moment.
The referee, in his wisdom, gave a goal kick!
Daniel Sturridge then came on for the disappointing Alex
Oxlade-Chamberlain and England went 4-3-3 as the pressure grew.
Milner's cross was just too high for Defoe, Defoe shot wide and
England then went close from a corner.
After 83 minutes Gerrard and Sturridge combined to set up
Welbeck but the striker could only toe-poke the ball against the post.
Oh, the agony on the England bench!
A minute later there were howls for a penalty as Welbeck went
down, and then Ukraine broke away and almost sealed the match but
thankfully Roman Zozulya missed a golden chance from close range.
It looked at this stage that England were going
to suffer a rare home defeat but there was still time for two further
stings in the tail.
and fellow sub Ryan Bertrand combined to get the ball into Welbeck and
this time the striker stayed composed and tried to dink the ball past
Yevgen Khacheridi only to see the big defender block it with an arm.
This time the referee did get it right when he awarded England
a penalty. Up stepped the
unflappable Lampard for the second game running to fire home a super
penalty. It was a deserved
equaliser for the home side.
The referee was to have the final say though as
in the 89th minute Gerrard went into a 50-50 challenge with
Garmash, who stepped across the England captain, and although the
Liverpool man won the ball the reaction of Garmash, going down as
though he had been hit by a 12 bore shot gun, convinced the referee
that it was a foul worthy of a second yellow card and Gerrard was off.
It was the final blot on the Turkish official's poor night and
now Gerrard misses the home game with San Marino.
All in all, England did well to finally gain some reward from
their efforts. Their
performance had not been a particularly good one but they kept going,
kept working and finally and deservedly gained their point.
It may prove important in the great scheme of things.