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Lambert and Welbeck star as England cruise to victory
Final Score: England 4 Moldova 0
AT least Greg Dyke now knows things could be worse – he could have taken over at the Moldovan FA.
A facile 4-0 win over a Moldovan side as poor as anything Europe has to offer is not going to salve the deep-rooted sores afflicting the English game, but it should nevertheless bolster confidence ahead of the much stiffer test that lies in wait in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, on Tuesday.
This being England, there inevitably has to be a caveat, and the controversial first-half booking that rules Danny Welbeck out of next week's match could yet prove to be the most significant feature of a night that confirmed England's ability to see off Europe's minnows in thoroughly convincing fashion.
However, given the negativity that has surrounded the England team this week thanks to the FA chairman's delivery of a few unpalatable home truths, this was still a welcome reminder of the talent that exists within a squad that remains well placed to qualify for next summer's World Cup finals.
In the absence of the injured Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Phil Jones and Glen Johnson, Roy Hodgson might have been scrambling around for players in a manner that befits a manager whose hands are tied by the limited number of domestic starters in the Premier League, but adversity can sometimes lead to discovery.
At the start of the summer, few would have anticipated Rickie Lambert emerging as England's key centre-forward, but after scoring on his debut against Scotland last month, the Southampton striker doubled his international tally and claimed two assists as he proved he is more than the battering ram he is sometimes portrayed.
Hodgson will still be hoping Sturridge is passed fit to travel to Ukraine, but suddenly it is hard to imagine Lambert being jettisoned whether the Liverpool forward makes it or not, such is his work rate and ability to hold the ball up and retain possession.
Welbeck was last night's other big winner, aside from the desperately poor decision to book him for kicking the ball away, with his two goals either side of the interval a fitting reward for an enterprising display that was full of neat touches and intelligent running.
With Steven Gerrard having opened the scoring as early as the 12th minute, England's victory was never in doubt, but given some of their previous struggles to break down opponents relying on a massed defence, it was still encouraging to see attacking players exhibiting creativity and vision.
The challenge now is to replicate those efforts against more challenging opponents in the shape of Ukraine, Montenegro and Poland in England's three remaining Group H matches.
Last night was never going to be much of a test, and Joe Hart did not have to stop a single shot at goal as Moldova lived down to their lowly billing.
England kicked off the current round of World Cup qualifiers with a 5-0 win in Chisinau that repeatedly exposed the shortcomings of a Moldovan side ranked 123rd in the world, and it did not take the hosts long to reaffirm their dominance.
Lambert could have scored twice inside the opening five minutes as the pace and crispness of England's passing prised a creaking opposition defence apart, but his header from Gerrard's corner flew over the crossbar and a first-time half-volley also failed to find the target after Ashley Cole's cross was deflected into his path.
A breakthrough seemed imminent though, and it duly arrived courtesy of Gerrard's 20th international goal in the 12th minute.
Cole and Welbeck combined effectively to engineer an opening down the left, Frank Lampard helped the ball into Gerrard's path, and the England skipper drilled a fierce low strike into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
Unlike a number of his contemporaries, Gerrard's desire to succeed in an England shirt has never waned. More than anyone else in the squad, he deserves a World Cup send off in Brazil next summer.
He will have had few easier international assignments than last night's, with England's superiority apparent throughout.
Cole and Kyle Walker were afforded far too much room on the flanks, Walcott threatened every time he ran at his full-back and both Lampard and Jack Wilshere were able to dribble into the penalty area at will.
One such Wilshere wander ended in a shot that was parried by Stanislav Namasco, but when the Moldovan goalkeeper attempted to repeat the trick to a similar strike from Walcott midway through the first half, the result was England's second goal.
Namasco's clumsy parry failed to clear the six-yard box, and Lambert was on hand to head home the second goal of his fledgling England career. It is 37 years since Peter Taylor became the last player to score in his first two England matches. Who said international football had become more difficult in the intervening period?
It certainly didn't appear so yesterday, although some of the gloss was taken off England's victory by the 45th minute booking that will keep Welbeck out of the Ukraine game.
There was barely half-a-second between Ivan Kruzliak blowing for offside and Welbeck curling a shot over the crossbar, yet the Slovakian official still brandished a yellow card for kicking the ball away. It was a nonsensical decision, but it could have serious repercussions if, as looks increasingly likely, Sturridge is not available in Kiev either.
To Welbeck's credit, he retained his composure admirably, and his first goal moments later was England's best of the night.
Having outpaced the Moldovan backline to reach Lambert's through ball, the Manchester United striker nudged the ball past Namasco before slotting it into the open net.
The link-up between Welbeck and Lambert was a key feature of England's attacking play all night, and the pair combined again to fashion a fourth goal five minutes after the interval.
Lambert's slide-rule pass released Welbeck down the left, and the former Sunderland loanee chipped a deliciously delicate first-time finish over an advancing Namasco.
With England cruising, Hodgson was able to introduce Everton youngster Ross Barkley for his international debut, and the 19-year-old came close with a 75th-minute strike that fizzed past the upright.
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