AT WEMBLEY STADIUM
ENGLAND 1 vs UKRAINE 1
ENGLAND manager Roy Hodgson insisted a draw was the least his 10 men deserved after Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard’s late penalty spared the home side’s blushes and maintained their unbeaten start to qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
Yevhen Konoplianka’s extraordinary first-half strike looked set to hand Ukraine a surprise win and an early advantage in Group H until substitute Danny Welbeck won an 87th-minute spot-kick and Lampard converted with customary aplomb.
Captain Steven Gerrard’s stoppage-time red card capped a difficult night in front of an unusually empty Wembley, albeit without a host of regular first-team players absent through injury, but Hodgson robustly defended his side’s performance.
“Had we lost it would have been pretty hard justice,” said Hodgson, whose side have four points from two games ahead of next month’s double-header with San Marino and Poland.
“I didn’t think we did that badly. We started very poorly but once we got into our stride we had quite good control of the game. We went 1-0 down to a wonder-strike and fully deserved our equaliser.”
Hodgson called Gerrard “extremely unlucky” to be sent off and defended his team’s attacking threat amid suggestions Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy Piatov had barely been exercised.
“The post was made to work a few times and we scored a goal,” he added. “I think it’s a bit dangerous to analyse goal chances on whether the goalkeeper was made to work.”
Hodgson’s men smothered Moldova 5-0 on Friday in their first step towards the finals in Brazil, and another win looked in prospect when Jermain Defoe lashed in an opportunistic strike from the edge of the penalty area after 10 minutes, but his effort was harshly disallowed for his supposed foul on Yarmolenko.
That pain was deepened seven minutes before half-time when Dnipro winger Konoplianka, 22, drifted in from the left past Gerrard and summoned a shot of equal parts ferocity and grace that curled into the flailing Joe Hart’s top left-hand corner.
Hodgson threw on Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and Ryan Bertrand in quick succession, and it was the former who injected the requisite spark for England to conjure an equaliser three minutes from time.
After volleying against the post just minutes earlier, he lured Yevgen Kacheridi into handling and Lampard thumped the penalty low and left to the relief of a meagre 68,000 crowd, although Gerrard’s injury-time second booking would ensure a one-match ban and a bittersweet end to a decidedly mixed evening.