Hodgson's mangerial honeymoon extended

Sat, Sep 8, 2012, 01:00

GROUP H Moldova 0 England 5:ALL TALK of miracles can wait. England needed only a saunter to ease into their qualification campaign geared towards reaching the World Cup in two years’ time, Roy Hodgson’s team barely breaking into a sweat against hapless opponents here to set a tone they must now maintain.

An eighth game without defeat over Hodgson’s brief tenure felt inevitable from the opening exchanges, so ramshackle was the locals’ attempt at defence. The visitors were ruthless when required, Frank Lampard leapfrogging Geoff Hurst into 13th in the list of England’s most prolific scorers with a first-half brace to take his tally to 25. No player has ever scored more goals in World Cup qualification than the Chelsea midfielder’s 11, with this the national team’s biggest away win since the visit to San Marino in 1993.

This had initially felt like an awkward fixture, a hiding to nothing in alien surroundings against unfancied opponents liable to retreat deep into defence. The locals had frustrated Holland home and away in the qualifying group for Euro 2012, only losing by the narrowest of margins on each occasion, and Ion Caras’s side were supposed to be an even tighter unit these days.

The pockmarked pitch, too, had played on English minds, even if it had been mowed and watered heavily, as the Football Association had requested, prior to kick- off.

Yet any pre-match trepidation quickly proved unfounded. The pitch may have been far from pristine but it was no real handicap, England pinging their passes merrily through the opening exchanges and maintaining an impressively upbeat rhythm for long periods. There was bustling energy from wide, and eagerness through the centre, while the opposition looked every bit a side ranked 141 in the world. Moldova were exposed horribly down both flanks, their full-backs overwhelmed and vacating huge areas of space into which England’s wingers tore. The visitors stretched the play, inviting Tom Cleverley to relish his unexpected inclusion as a buzzing number 10, and duly ran riot.

Lampard was the immediate beneficiary of England’s superiority. The Chelsea midfielder was starting alongside Steven Gerrard in a competitive fixture for the first time since the nightmare that was Bloemfontein in 2010, but these were not opponents to test whether that combination still feels cumbersome.

The 34-year-old’s untracked dart forward between centre-halves, and smartly guided header into the corner of the net from the edge of the six-yard box, felt trademark and doubled the English lead 29 minutes in, with Stanislav Namasco utterly exposed and helpless in his goalmouth.

Lampard had also provided England’s first goal, a penalty within the opening four minutes after Cleverley’s shot had been blocked by Simion Bulgaru with a hand. The midfielder’s last brace for his country had been against Croatia at Wembley in 2009, when he had pilfered his first from the spot and then nodded in a Glen Johnson cross for his second, an uncanny parallel even if this already felt like a mismatch. Jermain Defoe, on his 50th appearance for his country, prodded in a third at the near post, while a chaotic Moldovan rearguard were still coming to terms with a two-goal deficit. Namasco retired at the interval looking haggard, a broken man.

In truth he might have shipped plenty more by then, the Spurs striker having been denied from close range after a neatly constructed build-up on the edge of the box, while the excellent Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain drew an even smarter save. The Arsenal winger revelled in combination with Leighton Baines, another making a first competitive start.

Occasional hints at sloppiness were the only cause for alarm. Even so, Joe Hart’s dramatic dive as Artur Patras’ swerving shot from 40 yards flew over the bar felt like showmanship from a goalkeeper attempting to remind himself that this was an international contest. The ease at which Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Cleverley broke downfield, each passing up his own opportunity to add a fourth before Milner crunched in his first goal at this level in his 32nd cap, suggested otherwise. Baines’ deflected free-kick added late gloss to a thrashing.

Trickier occasions than this await, not least Tuesday’s visit of Ukraine to Wembley, but this was comfortable. Hodgson’s honeymoon is maintained.

Guardian Service

MOLDOVA: Namasco, Armas, Epureanu, Bulgaru, Golovatenco, Sergei Kovalchuk, Sergei Kovalchuk, Gatcan, Onica, Suvorov (Dedov 46), Patras, Picusciac (Sidorenco 76), Sidorenco (Ovseanicov 85). Subs not Used: Serghei Pascenco, Racu, Cebotaru, Bordiyan, Doros, Alexandru Pascenco, Ivanov, Alexeev, Negai. Booked: Bulgaru.

ENGLAND: Hart, Johnson, Lescott, Terry, Baines, Milner, Lampard, Cleverley, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Walcott 58), Gerrard (Carrick 45), Defoe (Welbeck 68). Subs not used: Ruddy, Walker, Bertrand, Cahill, Jagielka, Sturridge, Butland. Booked: Johnson.

Referee: Paul van Boekel(Geboren).

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