A stain on a summer of brilliance - England 1-1 Ukraine
By Kristian Balkin
Wednesday 12 Sep 2012 15:40:00
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Countless excuses will roll off of various tongues over the coming days – tales mainly about a terribly extensive injury list and a sordid refereeing performance – but there is little doubt in the abjectness of England’s performance here at Wembley against Ukraine.

And it had to, unfortunately for those involved, come off the back of one of Britain’s greatest sporting summers, in which London hosted a quite miraculous Olympic and Paralympic games, in which British athletes set the highest benchmark any current generation has ever witnessed for sporting aptitude and in which Andy Murray, a grumpy yet tremendously gifted man at the very best of times, won Britain’s first tennis major for 76 years.

Yes, something had to go wrong, and it certainly did.

Ukraine were beaten by Roy Hodgson’s new charges in Euro 2012, but, still, this was no night to rest on laurels and produce a particularly uninspiring performance.

Tom Cleverley managed to re-ignite concerns over English football’s bleak future with a disappointing performance while a leggy centre back pairing of Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott looked weak, weary and, at times, incompetent. Even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain showed that a fusion of talent and sheer enthusiasm isn’t always enough to compete at the highest level; he drifted in and out of the game and was eventually replaced.

Steven Gerrard upheld his characteristic intensity yet, on this occasion, it got the better of him and he was sent off for two bookable offences. He will now miss the San Marino tie.

Frank Lampard was perhaps the only man to leave the field with any pride intact, dispatching a late penalty to salvage what many would consider a lucky draw against a plucky, prudent and useful Ukraine outfit.

They arrived in London with a simple plan – slow down the tempo and hit this heavy-legged England side on the break. It worked up until the very end of the game and many could point to their extra time off as a decisive factor for their dominance. This was Ukraine’s first qualifying match while England, of course, flew to Moldova on Friday.  

Still, there was nowhere to hide. Late on, Hodgson tried to inject some impetus into the tie with the introduction of Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge which, to Hodgson’s credit, worked, with Welbeck in particular putting in a worthy shift. He hit the post and also went on to win Lampard’s penalty after troubling the Ukraine defence with a mixture of pace and intelligent movement.

Too many times were the home side caught in possession, though, and, far worse, caught napping. Lescott was the main culprit and suffered the most serious consequence as his miscalculation led to Evgeni Konoplyanka’s fine, curled opener. The Manchester City defender gave the ball away cheaply to an impressive Andrii Yarmolenko before it eventually made it to Konoplyanka’s feet. He cut inside, away from Gerrard, and let a fine strike nestle into Joe Hart’s corner.

The modest crowd, 22,000 short of capacity, were both shocked and displeased in equal measure as, in truth, despite England’s lack of guile and creativity, both sides had matched each other up to that point.

Things, however, could have been entirely different were Jermain Defoe’s early goal not harshly chalked off. Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir adjudged that the diminutive Tottenham forward had fouled Yarmolenko in the build-up. Cakir continued to be a divisive figure throughout the qualifier, eventually booking five England players and sending off Gerrard. Hodgson questioned those decisions but perhaps he should have been questioning his own.

In reality, no referee could have made England look a decent, footballing team here. It would have taken a miracle for that.

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