England 0-0 Ukraine
A subpar performance by England was enough to gain a crucial point from a goalless draw against their Group H rivals
In the end, it could have been Frank’s fairytale. As a stuttering game came to a close, the man winning his 100th England cap was inches away from sealing victory for England with a glancing header that drifted inches wide of Andriy Puyatov’s far post.
Had the header been put away, even the most fervent of England supporters would have been hard pressed to argue that England deserved the victory. It was an evening dedicated to avoiding defeat and the for the most part, the performance of both teams reflected a fear of being sucked into a mid-Group H scrap for qualification.
Before the game Roy Hodgson had joked that the worst possible scenario for England would be Joe Hart allowing the ball to squirm through his legs in the first minute. What really happened wasn’t quite as bad, but it certainly could have been. When the goalkeeper brought down the onrushing Roman Zozyula in his area just 50 seconds in, only the remarkable leniency of referee Pedro Proenca spared England the start that Hodgson had feared.
It was a first half in which neither goalkeeper looked particularly at ease. Hart, who will not have thanked his manager for that pre-game gaffe, looked shaky early on, punching away balls that should have been caught. He needed to be sharp during a first half in which Ukraine controlled the play and England struggled to respond – Jack Wilshere in particular was guilty of carelessness in possession and there was a sense that Ukraine’s momentum was a storm that needed to be weathered.
It was a less open beginning to the second half that was littered with a series of careless, sometimes reckless challenges particularly from the home side. Artem Fedetsky took exception to a slightly raised foot from Rickie Lambert but it was remarkable to see the speed with which the Ukrainian went to shake hands with the striker after being treated to a particularly intense stare. Lambert wears the battle-hardened look of a man who has seen it all in the lower leagues.
It was also a cynical challenge that marked the end of Theo Walcott’s contribution after Kucher stepped on the midfielder’s ankle as he chased him down. The sense was that Ukraine had run out of both ideas and energy and the end result was England rising to the bait. A rash challenge by Kyle Walker was a matter of inches away from being inside his own penalty area and he was fortunate the resulting free kick was wasted.
Other than bursts of pace by Theo Walcott, England could offer little going forward, Lambert cutting an isolated figure for much of the game. Passing was scratchy at best and the lack of incisiveness makes it increasingly baffling as to why Michael Carrick is not given more of an opportunity. Walcott, though perhaps shaken by the Kucher challenge, was wasteful in the extreme and the absence of Danny Welbeck’s strong link up play was telling.
There were scares for England well into the second half – Joe Hart will not have thanked his defenders for allowing Fedetsky a free header from a corner that really should have been buried, yet bounced harmlessly into the goalkeeper’s arms. England can rest easy knowing the job, effectively, has been done – but there is plenty for Roy Hodgson to chew over before Poland on 11 October.