England top the group; Lambert form eases loss of Welbeck for Kiev; Lampard and Gerrard hit it off with Wilshere
This was the routine victory England expected, eased from opponents ranked 123 in the world with the contest killed off early and an an upbeat rhythm struck up thereafter before Tuesday's trip to Ukraine. This group is tight at the top, with Roy Hodgson's team now top and Montenegro's draw in Poland very welcome, even if there are still serious threats posed by those at their back. Yet the frustration was Danny Welbeck's suspension, a ridiculously harsh yellow card for kicking the ball away ruling him out on Tuesday to deplete further the manager's attacking options; a livid Hodgson remonstrated with the Slovakian fourth official. James Milner is a prospective starter if Daniel Sturridge does not recover but Welbeck is prolific for his country and will be missed. At least Rickie Lambert prolonged his dream start at this level.
It is hard to fathom that only a year ago Frank Lampard appeared to be on the wane as a force for club and country. The veteran has enjoyed a buoyant 2013 since and earned a 99th cap here, setting up Steven Gerrard's opening goal and almost added his 30th for his country late on. In the absence of Wayne Rooney his bite will be vital in Kiev. So will be that of Lambert, a player only four years younger than the vice-captain but at the other end of his international career. There was a brace of assists for Welbeck here and another goal, his second from two caps, to ensure Southampton's journeyman feels integral to this campaign. 2013 has been kind to these two thirtysomethings.
That tired debate about Gerrard and Lampard excelling in the same team feels redundant now with Jack Wilshere such an eager figure buzzing around the veteran pair, even when subjected to a regular buffeting from his markers. The Arsenal midfielder provides this team's fizz, a blur of energy who taps into the elder statesmen's clever movement. Their neat triangle exchanges cut swaths through Moldova and have the capacity to unsettle Ukraine. Gerrard, for one, seems to enjoy playing with Lampard in particular, with his first goal for his country since August 2010 actually his 15th in 57 starts alongside the Chelsea player. He has only five in 47 starts without him.
England's initial strength under Hodgson, their miserly defence, has gone neglected in recent times and only San Marino had failed to register against a constantly changing back-line in the previous 10 matches. Moldova offered precious little threat here to prolong that worrying sequence with Eugeniu Sidorenco, who plays his football for Tom Tomsk in Russia, merely an annoyance, but Joe Hart and his central defenders should seize on a clean sheet as another reason for optimism regardless. Ukraine, of course, will be more incisive, yet Hodgson will have been relieved to rest Ashley Cole's ankles in the second half and impressed at Kyle Walker's attacking energy. The centre-halves, their partnership still a work in progress, know what is coming in Kiev.
By the time Moldova kicked off at Wembley Ukraine had their feet up over in Lviv as they took a half-time breather with a fourth successive victory in the group, this time over San Marino, already assured. The scoreline read 4-0 by then, the same as that which they had chalked up in Montenegro with 10 men back in June. Their tally had swollen to a remarkable nine by the end of the night. Mykhaylo Fomenko's team have the momentum in this group at present and, even if they have already drawn at Wembley earlier in this campaign, they will remember keenly the goal they were convinced they had scored to equalise against the English in Donetsk back at their own tournament, Euro 2012. Hodgson's team will travel wary of what awaits. The biggest test of the section is only a few days away.