England took a small step towards World Cup qualification after they scraped a draw in Kiev thanks to Ukraine’s profligacy.
Ukraine made the most of a booming atmosphere inside the Olympic Stadium, applying pressure to Roy Hodgson’s shell-shocked team, but they could not get the killer goal that would have put them top of Group H with two games left.
Hodgson had compared England’s mission in the former Soviet Republic to the one that Glenn Hoddle undertook in Rome 17 years ago when the Three Lions drew 0-0 to make it to France ‘98.
And it was certainly a case of backs to the wall again last night as the home side launched a barrage on the England box from the start.
Joe Hart almost gifted the hosts a first-minute lead when he brought down Roman Zozulya, but luckily for England and their out-of-form number one, the penalty was not given.
It was pretty much all Ukraine from then on. Buoyed by a sizzling atmosphere inside the sold out 70,000-seat arena, the Ukrainians created chance after chance, but they did not take any of them.
The impressive Yevgen Konoplianka set up a number of chances and Artem Fedetskiy wasted two fantastic opportunities with his head.
Although the draw moves England one point clear at the top of Group H with two matches left, this performance will have done little to satisfy those who agree with Greg Dyke’s claim that the Three Lions have little chance of lifting the World Cup in Rio next year if they get there.
The defence performed strongly, but there was a distinct lack of creativity in midfield and England sorely missed the drive of Wayne Rooney, who would have proved a perfect foil for the isolated Rickie Lambert.
England have tricky home fixtures against Montenegro and Poland to come and the fact remains that Hodgson’s only qualifying victories have come against world number 123 Moldova and Group H punchbags San Marino.
Captain Steven Gerrard felt it was a case of mission accomplished as England kept World Cup qualification in their own hands. The point left Hodgson’s men a point clear of both Ukraine and Montenegro at the top of Group H with home games against the Montenegrins and Poland still to come.
“I don’t think it was a top-class performance,” Gerrard said.
“Defensively we were solid and the result never looked in doubt.
“Before the game the challenge from the manager was let’s keep it in our hands, let’s make the two final games at Wembley – if we win them then we’re through.”
He added: “We’d like to create more. But sometimes if you’re too risky at places like this you can get undone at the back.
“It’s important to be defensively right first and foremost.”
England have yet to beat any of their direct competitors, their four wins in the group having come against San Marino and Moldova.
But Gerrard said: “We’ve got a better chance of doing that at Wembley. Going away from home to places like this is very difficult. They’re a good side.”
Manager Roy Hodgson conceded it was a fair result and that his side had hardly set pulses racing.
“I don’t think we were that adventurous,” he said. “But it was for them to be adventurous, not us.
“Perhaps we didn’t have quite the quality we needed [up front].
“[But] had we thrown caution to the wind and come away with a 0-1, I don’t think we’d have got any thanks for that.”