England still control their fate despite lucky break for Joe Hart, no service for Rickie Lambert and poor night for Jack Wilshere
Asked before kick-off if a draw would suffice, the England manager said: "It depends on how the game pans out. We'd like to think we can win but if they play as well as they can, they can win it too. The players need to be brave enough to trust each other." The evidence of a first half dominated by his side would have pleased Roy Hodgson and moved him towards believing victory was attainable as they pressed well and provided far more moments of class. But the second period was different. England deteriorated into a gang too often, scrambling to keep Ukraine out while offering almost zero attacking intent. Still, a draw means the manager and his band remain masters of their destiny and with England playing Montenegro and Poland in their final two games at home, automatic qualification for next summer's World Cup is on.
The Southampton striker had to endure what seemed like endless patronising ahead of the biggest night of his professional life. Yet the truth was this was a move up for the 31-year-old whose England career had got off to a flyer with two goals in his opening two games. By the close Lambert could walk off having returned a display that hardly sparkled but did not disappoint, making the most of a contest in which he was given scant opportunity to add to his international goal tally. He provided a reliable target in the lone front-man role as the ball generally stuck to him whenever aimed his way, and he offered further evidence of the football brain that is required for this level. An illustration of this came when he hooked an astute round-the-corner pass into Theo Walcott that had the Arsenal wide man in on goal.
After a soporific time watching his 10 outfield colleagues put Moldova away 4-0 at Wembley on Friday evening, the England No1 was awakened in the very first moments when he might have conceded a costly penalty. Hart may not have made any contact with Roman Zozulya but 35 caps should have informed him that diving at the centre-forward's feet so near to goal would only invite a fall, as it did. When Pedro Proenca, the referee, resisted the easy option of awarding the home side a penalty (a corner was his decision) the under-scrutiny Manchester City goalkeeper escaped a moment that might have defined his international prospects for the near future. Yet there was further suspect decision-making in the second half from him, when he allowed a corner to bounce in front of him instead of claiming it to ensure the danger was cleared.
Mykhaylo Fomenko called this "the game of my life" yet Evgen Konoplyanka apart, Ukraine's head coach was left shaking his head during the opening stanza at the display from his side, who too often failed to retain possession when they moved the ball forward. This changed after the interval, though. In Konoplyanka Ukraine had one performer who threatened whenever he took possession and who terrorised Kyle Walker as the defender hoped to put the pre-match furore for inhaling nitrous oxide behind him. Instead, Walker came up against a player who made a mug of him at will as Konoplyanka showed when cutting inside early on before letting go a 25-yard shot.
The man in the England shirt with the biggest talent struggled to get into the contest before and after the interval. Any influence Jack Wilshere had came only in underwhelming flashes such as when one of his typically mazy dribbles won a free-kick after he was felled on 16 minutes. As Ukraine and England walked off the pitch goalless at half-time, England's manager Roy Hodgson was surely preparing to tell his side to ensure the Arsenal midfielder was more involved when they returned. But Wilshere could manage only one more of those driving runs that can so damage the opposition before a disappointing outing ended with his 67th-minute substitution by Manchester United's Ashley Young.