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By Paul Lagan at Wembley
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
World Cup qualifier: England 1 Ukraine 1
Frank Lampard spared England’s blushes with a trademark penalty as the Three Lions came from behind to earn a point against Ukraine at Wembley tonight.
Buoyed by Friday’s 5-0 mauling of Moldova to get their World Cup qualifying campaign off to a flyer, Roy Hodgson’s men laboured against much tougher opposition.
The visitors took a spectacular and deserved lead through the gifted right boot of Ukraine playmaker Yevhen Konoplianko who arrowed home a fierce shot from long-range on 39 minutes.
Lampard, earning his 93rd cap, drilled home the spot-kick with four minutes remaining but there was further drama as captain Steven Gerrard was sent off for a second bookable offence.
England almost suffered an early setback when Oleg Gusiev sent in a deep right-wing cross which ricocheted off the thigh of Leighton Baines and sailed over the flailing reach of Joe Hart.
Thankfully for the home side, the ball clipped off the goalkeeper’s right upright and away for a corner.
It was a nervy beginning for England, with Ukraine comfortable on the ball and opening the England seemingly at will.
Against the run of play, Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe smashed the ball into the back of the net on 10 minutes from just inside the penalty area.
Unluckily for the Spurs man, Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir adjudged Defoe had palmed off Andrii Iarolenko and controversially awarded a free kick instead.
Gerrard was on hand at the other end to steer away Ruslan Rotan’s goal-bound side-footer on 13 minutes after Ukraine launched a quick counter-attack.
England, bit by bit, got themselves back into the game and on 26 minutes, and almost out of nothing, James Milner found himself clear to race towards goal, but his shot was deflected away from goal by Yarolav Takitskyy.
England missed a glorious chance to open the score on 35 minutes. Gerrard sent in a curling cross over the Ukraine centre-backs to in-running Defoe. He squared the ball back to Tom Cleverley, who could only volley the ball straight into Ukraine goalkeeper Andrii Piatov’s shins.
England’s nerves were well illustrated when, with six minutes until the break, Joleon Lescott conspired to give the ball away on the right. Within seconds it was on the other side of the pitch and at the feet of Konoplianka, who unleashed a mighty pile-driver from 30 yards which arrowed wide of Hart’s desperate dive and into the top corner to give the visitors a deserved lead.
On the stroke of half-time, Cleverley again failed to finish of another Gerrard-inspired move as the Manchester United midfielder fluffed his lines from eight yards out.
He was a tad unlucky seconds later when his rasping shot, beat Piatov but smacked the outside of the Ukraine goalpost.
The second half started much like the first with Ukraine on the front foot and England on defensive sentry.
Cleverley’s night ended on 62 minutes when Hodgson decided to revert to a 4-4-2 formation, bringing on striker and club-mate Danny Welbeck.
A plethora of misplaced passes typified England’s laboured efforts as Ukraine toyed with the home side on occasions.
But every now and then Three Lions created a chance and on 69 minutes Glen Johnson saw a fine run end with a low shot tipped around the post by Piatov for what should have been a corner but was given instead awarded as a goal kick.
Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge entered the fray with 20 minutes remaining for the ineffectual Arsenal teenager Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the hope of dragging England back into the game, while his club-mate Ryan Bertrand was introduced three minutes later for Leighton Baines.
With Ukraine content to sit back and defend their final third, England found more space to create.
Substitute Welbeck was the first to take advantage of this space and screamed in agony as he saw his 10 yard shot crash against the woodwork.
With the impetus now coming from England it was no real surprise to see it pay dividends.
With the seconds ticking away, Bertrand clipped the ball across from the byline, Defoe tapped it further into the path of Welbeck and the striker tried to lob Yevgen Khacheridi, who handled.
The referee pointed to the spot and up stepped Lampard to coolly drill home the equaliser.
While the game was not dirty, there were five bookings for England for needless fouls. Gerard, already cautioned for elbowing Konoplianka, received a second yellow card for a late challenge with two minutes left.
That’s four points from the opening two qualifying matches for England.
Next up is a home match against Sam Marino at Wembley on October 12, a match the Liverpool captain will miss through suspension.
England: Hart, Johnson, Baines (Bertrand), Lescott, Jagielka, Milner, Gerrard, Lampard, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Sturridge), Cleverley (Welbeck), Defoe.