England struggle to insipid draw with Ukraine
Frank Lampard’s blasted penalty four minutes from time levelled the scores after Yevhen Konoplyanka’s superb curling striker for Ukraine in the first half.
Both sides will be fairly pleased with the result, with England relieved to draw after going behind and performing insipidly for large portions of the match. Ukraine looked happy at the end of the game with a draw and would have taken a draw before the match, though must be slightly disappointed to not win given the lateness of England’s equaliser.
England will be disappointed with their display, with the first half performance especially poor. The familiar problems with passing the ball and keeping possession were in evidence, while the slowness and predictability of their attacks was shown by the relative ease with which a decent but not world beating Ukraine side were able to fend off their higher ranked rivals.
Ukraine started off the better, with Andriy Yarmolenko’s looping cross hitting the top of the crossbar after four minutes. Two minutes later, Ukraine forward Zozulya went close inside the six yard box from a low Yarmolenko cross.
England responded though, with Jermain Defoe going past two defenders and thumping a superb shot inside Andriy Pyatov’s near hand post. The goal was disallowed though for a borderline shove on Yarmolenko. The Ukrainian overreacted to the shove, but it was probably still a foul.
Ukraine were still superior though, and on fourteen minutes a fine move saw Zozulya guide a shot that was heading for the bottom corner, with only a desperate Steven Gerrard block stopping the goal.
The half hour mark saw one of the worst misses of the season. A Gerrard cross was met by a poor Defoe header, which nonetheless fell perfectly for Tom Cleverly. The Manchester United tyro had almost the whole goal to aim for, but ended up aiming for the part of the goal which had Pyatov’s shins in the way. Cleverley, who missed another good chance minutes later and hit the post on the brink of half time, had a poor game throughout and was substituted off after an hour.
The miss was punished when a few minutes later the excellent Konoplyanka received the ball thirty yards from goal, was given too much space by Gerrard and delightfully curled in a shot into the corner. This gave Ukraine a fully deserved half time lead after an England display that was slow, lethargic, saw England too often passing the ball harmlessly in their own half, unable to keep possession when they tried to go forward.
The start of the second half was more of the same, England struggling to impose themselves with Ukraine happy to defend in numbers and scream forward when possible. Gerrard and Defoe were both booked for planting elbows into the faces of their opponents, while Frank Lampard went close for England and Zozulya close to glancing from six yards out as well.
It wasn’t until Cleverley’s withdrawal for Danny Welbeck with half an hour left that England started to improve. Welbeck linked the play far better than Defoe had done up to then and was an immediate threat. Glen Johnson went close shortly after Welbeck’s introduction to proceedings with a fizzing low shot saved well by Pyatov and wrongly given as a goal kick rather than a corner.
The introductions of Daniel Sturridge for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ryan Bertrand for Leighton Baines added further England impetus, though it was still ten minutes from the end before serious pressure was applied. A cynical Denys Garmash foul bringing about a Gerrard free kick that was close to meeting Phil Jagielka’s head.
Five minutes later came another bad miss. Welbeck, mostly impressive, missed a simple chance from eight yards out and hit the post. A couple of minutes after that he embarrassed himself with a hideous dive in the penalty area that saw appeals for a penalty correctly waved away.
On the counter attack from Welbeck’s tumble, Ukraine almost sealed the game. Konoplyanka, always a threat, raced down the left, crossed low for Zozulya with only an excellent Joe Hart save keeping England in the game.
The game was by now stretched, and England promptly went down the other end and won a penalty, Yevhen Khatcheridi blatantly handballing in the penalty area. Lampard, bafflingly awarded the Man of the Match award after a largely anonymous display that must have had Michael Carrick quietly seething on the England bench, thumped home the penalty three minutes from the end.
There was still time for England’s captain to be sent off. Gerrard, on a booking, stupidly lunged into Garmash and was deservedly given a second booking. Injury time saw lots of effort but little end product, both sides happy with what they had.
England were mostly disappointing. Poor in possession, shaky at the back and wasteful in front of goal they will be disappointed. Cleverley had a bad game, Lampard did little aside from the penalty, Gerrard tried hard but was partially at fault for Ukraine’s goal andgot himself unnecessarily sent off while Oxlade-Chamberlain had one of those nights where everything he tried never quite came off. This match will reinforce debate about why England continue to struggle in possession of the ball.
This performance was no reflection on the fans. Despite a slightly disappointing attendance of only 68,000, the fans at Wembley couldn’t be faulted for their positivity. Referee Cuneyt Cakir received most of the criticism, perhaps unfairly. Though he was maybe too eager to punish petty fouls, he was consistent in his application of the rules and England players should have realised long before the end the sort of little pushes and shoves they get away with in the Premier League were going to be punished.
The fans largely blamed the referee and the timewasting tactics of Ukraine when hanging on to their 1-0 lead as opposed to lambasting England. Given this was exactly the sort of display that has seen England fail before time after time in the past, the support from the fans was laudable. In an era where fans are treated as human bank notes by clubs and where commentators slag off fans for taking action against bad managers and dodgy owners, the spectators should be praised when praise is due, as it was tonight.
Nonetheless, Roy Hodgson will not be pleased with a performance that raised more questions than answers. His substitutions worked well but his starters were lacklustre, the failings evident at Euro 2012 were still there last night and questions will be raised about whether Hodgson should be more willing to give younger players a chance in the side. Injuries of course hampered England, though injuries are not the sole reason for a largely poor display.
England will be happy with the draw but unhappy with the performance. They will have to improve massively if they are to have any sort of impact on the next World Cup.