He may have enjoyed a dream debut, but there were few observers who considered Rickie Lambert to be anything more than an isolated fairytale footnote in England’s recent history. Instead, the 31-year-old with just two seasons’ experience in England’s top two divisions could yet play a pivotal role in England’s quest to make it to Brazil next year.
Another spate of injuries afforded him the chance to start the World Cup qualifier against Moldova on Friday, but once again he took full advantage with a goal and two assists in a 4-0 win. The quality of the opposition certainly required no step up for Lambert from the lower leagues where he spent most of his career, yet his ability stood out among his teammates that in contrast to him have been lauded from an early age.
If the result was ever in doubt, any nervousness about picking up the three points was effectively ended when captain Steven Gerrard slammed a fine effort in on 12 minutes. From then on out, Lambert took center stage. His header to make it 2-0 was simple enough but he showed that he can effectively linkup play with passes to setup Danny Welbeck to score a twice, either side of half time.
Welbeck’s brace was marred, though, by an incredibly harsh yellow card given after he shot barely a second after the referee’s whistle had gone for offside. That rules him out of the crucial qualifier in Ukraine on Tuesday and means that, with Daniel Sturridge unlikely to return to fitness in time, much hope suddenly rests on Lambert’s shoulders.
The performance at Wembley will have been satisfactory to coach Roy Hodgson. In particular, a midfield three of Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Jack Wilshere worked well. Perhaps even more pleasing to Hodgson will have been Montenegro dropping points in Poland that means England leapfrog them and into top spot in Group H.
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England had got an early goal to open the floodgates to an emphatic 5-0 win in Moldova 12 months ago and grabbed the initiative early at Wembley too. Lambert had already gone close as he smashed an effort wide of the near post before Gerrard struck. After linkup play between Ashley Cole and Welbeck down the left, Lampard laid the ball back perfectly into the Liverpool man’s path to unleash a trademark drive low into the corner.
There was nothing that goalkeeper Stanislav Namasco could have done on that occasion, but the same could not be said about his role as England extended their lead to 3-0 before half time. Much of the Moldovan team must take the blame for the second goal 26 minutes in. The visitors squandered numerous chances to clear their lines and England were able to continue their pressure before Walcott’s shot straight at Namasco was somehow parried right across goal for Lambert to head in at the far post.
And the beleaguered keeper was equally culpable for England’s third right on the stroke of half time. Lambert dropped deep and produced a superb chipped pass over the defense that caught Namasco in no man’s land and allowed Welbeck to control and slide the ball into the empty net.
Lambert was again the architect for England’s fourth strike five minutes after the break. The Southampton forward, afforded too much space outside the box, slipped a perfect pass to Welbeck down the inside left channel and the Manchester United man produced s stylish dinked finish over Namasco. Lambert almost had a hand in a fifth goal moments later as he fed the ball onto his left for half-time substitute Leighton Baines to fire straight at the goalkeeper.
Lambert’s name may have been taken out of the headlines had a fine effort from 19-year-old debutant Ross Barkley not soared juts wide of the post after the Everton midfielder was introduced. The scoreline might have been more emphatic too had another substitute James Millner not contrived to miss a simple chance, but it matters not and the focus quickly switches to Kiev on Tuesday.