Injury-hit England pin hopes on Lambert against Ukraine
The Southampton striker now has two goals in two internationals - can he do it again on Tuesday?
WHO would have thought just a few months ago that England fans would have been pinning their hopes on Rickie Lambert?
The 31-year-old Southampton striker was seeing out his career on the south coast, way down the pecking order of England strikers likely to be called on by Roy Hodgson.
But injuries and loss of form won Lambert a call-up in last month's friendly against Scotland, a match in which he scored with his first touch when he appeared as a second-half substitute. And the former Bristol Rovers striker made it two goals in two internationals when he turned out for Friday's comfortable 4-0 defeat of Moldova.
Now Hodgson will be praying Lambert can get on the score sheet again tomorrow night when England play the Ukraine.
As Simon Yeend points out in the Daily Express: "If Lambert scores, he will become only the third England player in 60 years after Bobby Smith and Allan Clarke to score in his first three internationals."
England now lead Group H but defeat to the Ukraine will see the East European side leapfrog the Three Lions into top spot. Then there's also the threat of Montenegro, who lie second, level on points with England, and who travel to Wembley next month.
In short, England can't afford to lose in the Ukraine - but they travel east with a depleted strike force. Wayne Rooney was ruled out last week with a head injury, Daniel Sturridge has failed to recover from a thigh injury and Danny Welbeck, who scored twice against Moldova, is sidelined through suspension.
The Manchester United forward was booked for kicking the ball away on Friday night – a punishment Hodgson labeled "more than harsh” – and so the Three Lions must rely on Lambert and Tottenham's Jermain Defoe as the only available recognised strikers.
Hodgson could decide to play for a draw and go with only one striker, while bringing James Milner into the side despite the fact the Manchester City winger hasn't started a game for his club this season.
But as the England manager acknowledged at the weekend, his side isn't really adept at playing defensively for 90 minutes. "We don't really do that," he said, when asked if England might play for a point in Kiev. "Our style of play, which is well ingrained with the players, is based on both attacking and defending. We don't tend to set out to just defend."
Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail thinks Tottenham's Andros Townsend might be a wiser choice than Milner. "Townsend was Tottenham's best performer in their defeat by Arsenal. He had a storming game against Dinamo Tbilisi in Europe, too, and was man of the match in the home win over Swansea City.
"And while Ukraine will surely be aware of any potential opponent, they will be expecting Milner, not Townsend, to walk out at the Olympic Stadium."
Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere predicted that after the Moldova victory, Tuesday night will be "a much harder game… they have some dangerous players, as we saw when they came to Wembley. We have to be ready and defend well, as well as attack."
Meanwhile Wilshere's Arsenal teammate, Theo Walcott, was as bullish as the England manager about tomorrow's tactics. "We always go into games trying to win them," said Walcott. "We don't want to go out there and try to get a draw. That's when we could be caught on the break. We have a lot of pace in this team. They have to come at us and that could work in our favour.” ·