England happy with Ukraine draw - but it leaves no margin for error

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Theo Walcott
Theo Walcott

Two words echoed around Kiev's cavernous Olympic Stadium as England pulled away into the night and out of Ukraine with a World Cup mission on the way to being accomplished: job done.

Job done in getting a point in a game that suffered a quality bypass but ensured England still have their fate wrapped in their own hands with two Wembley meetings with Montenegro and Poland to come.

Job done in inching ever closer towards Brazil next summer despite the absence of some heavy attacking artillery in the shape of injured Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridgeexternal-link and suspended Danny Welbeck.

Job done in the eyes of the small band of England supporters in the near-70,000 crowd in Kiev who were kept behind at the final whistle but celebrated like they were already mapping out the road to Rio 2014.

It is hard to argue with any of those bullet points but there was also plenty on offer to act as a shield against even the slightest hint of complacency ahead of those final World Cup qualifiers.

England may have achieved one of the two acceptable results available to them when they landed in Kiev on Sunday, but the fact remains that the only teams they have beaten in Group H so far are Moldova and San Marino.

They have put off overcoming the likes of Montenegro and Poland - and of course Ukraine - until the point where it matters most. So, despite the healthy outlook and the favour of home advantage, England must break a habit to secure the results they need to guarantee automatic qualification.

England and Hodgson cannot afford any mistakes. They have put themselves in the position the manager wanted but they must change the record to complete the task.

Hodgson declared himself happy with the result and performance here in Kiev, then threw a few extra eggs into the pudding by announcing this was a game of "very good quality".

Was it really? Does both teams conceding possession with monotonous regularity and barely constructing a cohesive attack worthy of the name qualify as quality?

The remark reduced many in his post-match briefing to bemusement. Yes, the result suited England's purposes but best not kid anyone that this was one for the purists.

It was, after a slightly knockabout first 20 minutes and a short spurt towards the end, deadly dull. England are not a team that excite.

New Football Association chairman Greg Dyke was not in Kiev because of prior commitments. When he collects the DVD of this game he can brandish it around Wembley as the prime exhibit to support his contentious, but entirely realistic, case that England cannot be considered serious contenders to win in Brazil.

Ukraine, for all the pre-match talk, were next to hopeless in the final third of the pitch and England barely got there anyway. If there was quality, it came in defensive positions.

It came in the shape of a magnificent performance from Chelsea's Gary Cahill at the heart of England's defence. If anyone still harboured doubts about his international pedigree, this was the night they were banished.

When Ukraine did threaten early on, as they often do before blowing themselves out, Cahill was the glue that stuck England together. With goalkeeper Joe Hart and the struggling Kyle Walker, who comes up short for his country, all at sea, Cahill was the man making the vital clearances, covering the dangerous areas.

He even found time to move forward and threaten from set pieces. It was a complete performance and there are promising signs in his central defensive partnership with Phil Jagielka.

Ashley Cole also excelled but disappointment came in the performance of Walker and, in particular, Jack Wilshere.

Arsenal's gifted midfielder looked well off the pace. He was knocked off the ball too easily and gave the ball away with abandon - always a costly problem at international level when possession is king.

It was a merciful release when he was taken off, a tough call for Hodgson on a player he sets great store by.

Wilshere was symptomatic of a long-running England theme. They struggle to keep possession, a fairly basic problem. which made the decision to send Ashley Young on as Wilshere's replacement rather than Michael Carrick another cause for puzzlement.

To offer balance, it should be noted that England were without key attacking options and Hodgson will hope they can return to face Montenegro and Poland.

It is against this backdrop that Hodgson can be optimistic, but England's record in this group should be their guard against over-confidence.

This was not a game of "very good quality", with apologies to Hodgson's trained eye. It was, for very long periods, dismal.

It was, however, a case of job done. And that was enough to be going on with.


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