This match was always going to be the pivotal
moment in deciding England's World Cup group, and before their trip to
the Ukraine, the consensus of opinion seemed to be that a draw would
be an excellent result for the 'Three Lions' team.
And that is exactly how it panned out,
although some of the subsequent post-match criticism was totally over
the top, as usual.
made their traditional bright start to a game, but the
defence stood firm and kept the home forwards at arm's length.
There was an early scare when the ball came in to the near post
and Joe Hart dived at the feet of the onrushing Roman Zozulya.
For a split second the England
players had their hearts in their mouths, but thankfully the excellent
Portuguese referee awarded a corner rather than the penalty the home
fans were screaming for.
Then, almost immediately at the other end, Theo Walcott latched on to
a through pass from Rickie Lambert and raced into the penalty area.
This time it was the home goalkeeper, Andriy Pyatov, who spread
himself to block the ball and send Walcott sprawling.
Those two early incidents gave the crowd
encouragement that this would be an open and attacking game.
But World Cup qualifiers are rarely like that and the match
soon settled into a dour defensive battle.
Over the next twenty minutes
defended well with Gary Cahill particularly prominent.
He was well backed up by Phil Jagielka and the ever-reliable
Ashley Cole, who did a marvellous job in stifling the threat of danger
man Andriy Yarmolenko. On
the other side though, Yevhen Konoplyanka gave Kyle Walker a very
is usually no slouch, but Konoplyanka stretched the Tottenham defender
almost to breaking point at times.
The Ukrainian was quick, had all the ball skills, and he wasted
little time before crossing the ball into the area.
Thankfully when danger did threaten Cahill was across to block,
intercept and clear the ball, and the Chelsea
man had probably his best game so far in an
Going forward, though
were laboured and lacked ideas.
The enforced absence of Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Alex
Oxlade-Chamberlain and Daniel Sturridge would seriously weaken any
side, and England's
attacking options were limited.
It was always going to be a mountain that
had to somehow get over.
To be fair Lambert tried his best and did well in the main, but he was
often left isolated and Walcott promised much with his pace but then
failed to apply a killer touch when in good positions.
James Milner could not be classed as a forward as he was in the
team to bolster the midfield.
If ever a game was there for Jack Wilshere to take by the
scruff of the neck, it was this one.
Alas, on the night the Arsenal 'Golden Hope' was found wanting,
having a poor game, giving the ball away too easily and being muscled
off the ball too often.
This is something that opposing teams are picking up on to stifle
Wilshere's obvious talent and it is something he needs to find an
answer to in the future.
England's midfield, Steven Gerrard
worked his socks off and he also had one of the few worthwhile goal
attempts that England
conjured up, the ball just missing, going over the bar with the
goalkeeper groping. Frank
Lampard, celebrating joining the exclusive '100 Cap Club', had a quiet
match, working hard, but not producing any of those trademark surges
into the danger areas.
To be honest the match was devoid of decent goal
attempts all round with Ukraine
failing to live up to all the pre-match hype.
They were quite poor in many respects and the unjust criticism
after the game probably stemmed from the surprise at how poor
actually were. Their
performance was certainly not what the 'experts' expected.
the end of the day England
were there to do a job, and they did that quite comfortably.
Right at the death they almost snatched victory as Lampard
suddenly dipped his head into a cross from the right and headed just
wide of the left hand post.
That would have been a fitting climax on a special night for
one of England's
best ever goalscoring midfield players.
Goal chances at either end were at a premium in
this match, and neither goalkeeper had to make a save worthy of the
England, Cahill was outstanding, and
their best player was Konoplyanka.
Apart from that there was little to enthuse over, apart from a
great deal of hard work and endeavour.
won the point they wanted and deserved, and now top the group as we
approach the two home games that remain for them.
It is in England's
hands now and with players to come back from injury and suspension the
future looks very promising.
One word of caution from one who vividly
remembers a certain Polish goalkeeper called Tomaszewski, the fact
that Poland are our last match visitors is a niggling thought!
But never mind that, let's deal with
first and then worry about the Poles later.