By Wayne Veysey at Wembley
On the night a breeze of change blew through the England side, they were winded by the failure to take all three points under the Wembley arch as they struggled to a 1-1 draw with Ukraine.
The ever-reliable Frank Lampard spared the Three Lions’ blushes with an emphatic 87th minute penalty following some late pressure from Roy Hodgson’s team.
But, it failed to dispel the impression that they had been taught a lesson in technique and passing by their visitors.
The difference between the teams was Yevgeni Konoplianka, the Ukraine No.10, who not only scored a peach of a goal in the 38th minute from around 30 yards but caused panic in the hosts’ jittery defence every time he bombed forward down the left flank.
Oleg Blokhin’s team were good value for their lead for 49 minutes but England’s late pressure eventually told, with Danny Welbeck producing an impressive cameo as a second-half substitute
In chaotic scenes, skipper Steven Gerrard was sent off shortly before the final whistle for a second bookable offence. Plans to hand him the sponsors’ man-of-the-match award had to be swiftly scrapped, and it was predictably given to Lampard instead for his crucial late intervention.
The only competition that matters to England is the race to Brazil in 2014, but this was a disappointing evening for Hodgson’s team as they followed up their 5-0 victory against minnows Moldova with an unconvincing display.
The FA’s hospitality towards Ukraine journalists, who were served chicken Kiev and borscht in the media lounge before kick-off, was extended by the national team towards their visitors.
Ukraine began the brighter of the two teams in a marked shift from the almost total dominance England enjoyed four days previously against group H minnows Moldova.
Both sides had opportunities early on. Jermain Defoe was convinced he had put England 1-0 up with a thumping long-range drive after cutting in from the left flank but it was ruled out after the eagle-eyed Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir spotted he had aimed a shove into the throat of Iarmolenko.
Ruslan Rotan had a goal-bound side-footer well blocked by Steven Gerrard as the visitors made confident use of their early territorial dominance.
England were comfortable with the ball but far too generous to their visitors without it. In the 38th minute Ukraine took full advantage.
Glen Johnson was caught up field after a typically adventurous raid up field, leaving Konoplianka space in which to run at Joe Hart’s goal.
The No.10 cut in field from the left flank and was able to arrow a brilliant 30-yard strike into the far corner of Hart’s goal as Gerrard, noticeably the deeper of England’s midfielders, stretched in vain to intercept his shot.
Either side of Konoplianka’s wonder goal, Cleverley missed two opportunities that comfortably fitted into the category marked ‘sitter’.
Firstly, he spammed a shot straight at Ukraine keeper Andriy Piatov from no more than four yards after Defoe had smartly headed Gerrard’s cross from the right into his path and, then, skewed wide from just outside the six-yard box following good work by Lampard.
Cleverley, roaming in the No.10 role that Hodgson had earmarked for the injured Wayne Rooney, made it a hat-trick of missed opportunities when his miss-hit shot from a tight angle on the cusp of half-time slapped the post on the start of its journey into the crowd behind the goal.
It left Hodgson and his coaching staff with much work to do during the break in order to coax a comeback out of his squad.
Ukraine continued to keep the ball well and offer enough going forward for England to venture forward somewhat gingerly.
Cleverley’s disappointing match ended in the 62nd minute when he was replaced by Danny Welbeck, who immediately took up a station on the left flank, something he has also had to get used to at club level this season.
The United forward was soon joined by Daniel Sturridge and, more surprisingly, Ryan Bertrand, as Hodgson made early use of his full quota of replacements.
England upped their intensity. Johnson shot wide after slaloming in from the right and Welbeck saw a toe-poke with the outside of his boot rebound agonisingly off the post.
Shortly after Roman Zozulia came within inches of doubling Ukraine’s lead, sustained pressure from England led to a penalty-box melee culminating in Welbeck’s shot hitting the hand of Yevgen Khacheridi.
Up stepped Lampard to do what he does best,hammering home his second spot-kick in four days and his fourth of the season.