It ended up being a bittersweet night for England, full of goals to send the crowd home happy, buoyed by the news that Montenegro and Poland had drawn elsewhere in Group H but also with a measure of regret about what happened to Danny Welbeck and what it means for Roy Hodgson's team going into a much more difficult assignment against Ukraine.

Hodgson's irritation about the booking that means Welbeck is suspended on Tuesday was there for everyone to see and justifiable, too, when it was such a soft decision. The England manager can be encouraged by more evidence that Rickie Lambert has quickly acclimatised to international football, with another headed goal to add to the one he scored against Scotland, but Welbeck's ban comes at a time when Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll are already out and Daniel Sturridge is likely to join them.

Lambert would ordinarily be England's fifth-choice striker. Jermain Defoe, the only other forward available, probably comes in at sixth and is out of favour at Spurs. Hodgson may now have to bring in James Milner on the left and, on that basis, a certain amount of gloss was taken off a night on which Welbeck scored twice but barely celebrated either before leaving the pitch angrily complaining to the Slovakian referee. Ivan Kruzliak had already taken an earful from Gary Neville at half-time and it was rare to see Hodgson as annoyed as he was while remonstrating with the fourth official. Welbeck's other yellow card in Group H was also unjust, penalised wrongly for an alleged dive against Montenegro, and Hodgson's analysis was that "it doesn't get much more unfortunate than that".

England should still conclude that the good outweighed the bad at the end of a night that finished with them top of the group. The result in Warsaw was the one Hodgson had wanted and Poland, five points adrift, look almost out of it. Now Hodgson just has to work out a makeshift forward line against a Ukraine team who warmed up for Tuesday by doling out the obligatory thrashing to San Marino, knocking in four goals by half-time and another five in the second half.

England were fairly reserved in comparison but still utterly dominant, as might be expected when the opposition trail in 123rd in Fifa's world rankings. Joe Hart finished the night without a single grass stain on his kit and it was just a surprise the team did not butter up their goal difference even more once Welbeck had clipped in Lambert's through-ball five minutes into the second half.

Ross Barkley, a second-half substitute, almost marked his debut with a goal but by that stage England were playing at half-pace. A team can do that when the imbalance of talent is this considerable. In Kiev we will have a better idea whether Hart is still vulnerable or the new-look midfield, with Jack Wilshere flitting around Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, can control the matches that matter. It all looked good here but, when the opposition is so feeble, it is hardly an accurate barometer.

England, all the same, enjoyed a relatively pressure-free night once Gerrard had put them on their way with a lovely, drilled finish after 12 minutes. Lambert should also go to Kiev in a good frame of mind. Yet it was his goal that probably epitomised the standard of this Moldova side. Theo Walcott's diagonal right-foot shot should have been a routine catch for the goalkeeper, Stanislav Namasco, only for the ball to skim off his gloves and fly horizontally into Lambert's path. It was a horrible mistake and Lambert, showing the classic centre-forward's anticipation, turned his header into the exposed net.

If that goal was lucky, the one that preceded it was a wonderful piece of penetrative football. Welbeck foxed two defenders with a lovely piece of skill on the left. Ashley Cole sent him running clear and, when Welbeck cut it back to Lampard on the edge of the penalty area, Gerrard was already lining up where to aim. Lampard rolled the ball into his path and, from 20 yards, Gerrard pinged a controlled, beautifully weighted shot into the bottom corner, flicking off the post.

Welbeck, though still occasionally raw, showed in those moments why Hodgson and his coaching staff were so aggrieved about what happened just before half-time. Running through the inside-left channel, Welbeck was given offside just before trying to curl a right-foot shot into the top corner. There was a split second between the flag going up and him cocking back his right foot and the referee was harsh in the extreme to rule this was time-wasting.

If nothing else, the idea that England would want to fritter away a few seconds was laughable when Moldova were so ripe for a thrashing. In the next attack Lambert curled a long diagonal pass, right to left, into the penalty area. Welbeck, sprinting through the middle, had eluded the Moldovan defence, his first touch taking the ball past Namasco and leaving a simple finish.

Welbeck did well to remain fully focused in the second half when the sense of injustice was so pronounced and it was a delicate shot he floated over Namasco for 4-0. Lambert, playing with great confidence and sureness of touch, then played in Leighton Baines, but this time the goalkeeper saved well. Baines had come on at half-time because Cole, like Welbeck, had gone into the match one game away from a suspension. "We were shaken," Hodgson said. But he will enjoy the view from the top of Group H.