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Hodgson: 'Welbeck booking overshadowed easy England win'
ROY Hodgson last night admitted the controversial booking that will keep Danny Welbeck out of next week's crucial World Cup qualifier in Ukraine had cast a long shadow over England's comprehensive 4-0 defeat of Moldova at Wembley.
Welbeck scored twice as England eased ahead of Montenegro on goal difference at the top of the Group H table, but his evening took a turn for the worse when he was booked for kicking the ball away on the stroke of half-time.
Given that he had also picked up a yellow card for an alleged dive during March's draw in Montenegro, he will be unavailable for Tuesday's away game against a Ukraine side who are just a point behind England with three games remaining.
With Wayne Rooney also unavailable, and Daniel Sturridge continuing to struggle with a thigh problem, Hodgson is alarmingly short of attacking options, a scenario that merely enhanced his anger at the disputed nature of last night's booking, which saw Welbeck penalised even though there was less than a second between the referee's whistle for offside and his subsequent shot at goal.
“It has overshadowed things, especially coming at a time when we are short of front players anyway,” said Hodgson. “Welbeck is someone we were considering as an alternative forward player.
“He and (Ashley) Cole were the only players that started the game with a booking, and he was the only booking in the game. The first one came when we thought he should have had a penalty in Montenegro, but the referee didn't give a penalty and booked him for diving.
“I don't think there will be too many people, even in most of the refereeing fraternity, who will say that (yesterday's) was a yellow card. It was a split-second gap between the whistle and the shot. You would have to work very hard to persuade that by the rules of the game, that's a yellow card.
“But we are getting used to dealing with misfortune, and the players dealt with the misfortune during the game. We just have to hope we can do the same in Ukraine.”
Welbeck was one of England's leading performers throughout last night's game, with his link-up play with Rickie Lambert creating two of the home side's four goals.
The Manchester United striker was clearly distraught when he was booked on the stroke of half-time, but to his credit, he retained his composure well enough to score his first goal of the night moments later.
“I was very disappointed to get booked,” said Welbeck. “In a stadium of thousands of fans, you can't always hear the whistle. It was difficult to get my head right after that, but I wanted to play my part for the team and hopefully in Ukraine we will get the right result.”
It would help England's cause if Sturridge was to be available, but having been sent back to Liverpool earlier in the week, there is only a slim chance of the striker being passed fit to travel to Ukraine.
He will join up with the rest of the England squad today before being assessed by the national squad's medical staff tomorrow, and while Hodgson has not yet ruled him out of Tuesday's fixture, he remains unlikely to feature in Kiev.
“It's five days since he had the scan, and that showed he has a thigh problem,” said Hodgson. “He would have to recover from a thigh strain in seven or eight days. It's not impossible, and there's no reason why we should give up on him.
“But if you are asking, 'Is it more than 50-50', the answer is definitely, 'No', and I would fear it's worse odds than that. He will be assessed on Sunday, and who knows? He injured himself against Notts County and played against Manchester United, so maybe he can do the same for us.”
If Sturridge and Welbeck are both unavailable on Tuesday, there is every chance Hodgson will select Lambert as a lone striker, with James Milner starting on the left-hand side in an attempt to tighten things up in midfield.
Lambert has now scored in both of his opening two England appearances, and while the 31-year-old might not be everyone's idea of an international-class centre-forward, last night's display should ensure his involvement in the rest of the qualifying campaign.
“It was a selection which people saw to some extent as a selection because two other contenders were missing, but he took his chance and that's all you can do,” said Hodgson. “When you get the chance to put the national team shirt on, you have to take it.
“I'm sure Rickie will be expecting to play on Tuesday now – I have to decide whether to go along with his expectation or surprise him.”
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