Roy Hodgson was left raging despite England going top of Group H as a yellow card for two-goal hero Danny Welbeck ruled him out of Tuesday’s crucial qualifier with Ukraine in Kiev.
Steven Gerrard’s first goal in more than three years set England on their way to an anticipated triumph against Moldova at Wembley as Rickie Lambert became the first player to score in his first two internationals in 37 years.
Welbeck also grabbed a couple, one each either side of half-time, to extend a remarkable scoring record for his country.
But it was the caution given to the Manchester United man by Slovakian referee Ivan Kruzliak that had the England boss Hodgson waving his arms on the touchline in fury.
Cautioned for kicking the ball after the whistle had gone for offside, Welbeck is now suspended for Tuesday’s assignment, which will go a long way to determining whether England qualify directly for next year’s World Cup.
With Wayne Rooney injured and Daniel Sturridge almost certain to miss out too, it was a cruel blow.
And it was made all the worse because Kruzliak had let Victor Golovatenco get away with two crunching tackles from behind on Theo Walcott earlier in the contest.
Hodgson made his feelings known in no uncertain manner, expressing his anger to the fourth official.
Comfort came in the result, with Montenegro’s draw in Poland meaning England now top their group with three games left – although Ukraine are just a point behind and have a substantially improved goal difference after hammering nine past San Marino last night.
Football Association chairman Greg Dyke was present after this week dropping his two bombshells – setting England the target of winning the World Cup in 2022, while at the same time expressing a belief they have little chance of lifting the trophy in Brazil next summer.
Although the latter comments have been seized on as being somewhat crass for a man in his position, it is a sentiment shared by the majority.
Nothing that occurred last night was going to change those opinions.
On the evidence of their meetings with Hodgson’s men, it is beyond comprehension how Moldova have managed to secure draws with group heavyweights Poland and Ukraine, which could in the end turn out to be very handy.
As in England’s five-goal romp in Chisinau, Moldova were no threat and it was just a question of how long the hosts would have to wait for their opener.
The answer was 11 minutes, by which time Lambert had rifled a fierce effort wide and Kyle Walker had fizzed a low cross through the six-yard box without an England player managing to get a touch on it.
It took some hard graft from Welbeck and Ashley Cole to create the opportunity, laying the ball into Frank Lampard’s path.
So often has it been said Lampard and Gerrard cannot play together. They did okay this time though as the Chelsea man, on his 99th appearance, rolled the ball into Gerrard’s path and the captain drilled a superb shot that nestled in the corner of Stanislav Namasco’s goal.
The Moldova goalkeeper looked ill at ease virtually every time he was threatened, which was often.
When Theo Walcott lashed a shot goalwards, Namasco could only push it straight onto Lambert’s head.
For a man brought up on the long-ball tactics of lower leagues, and who exactly 10 years ago was an unused substitute for Stockport, it was an opportunity to relish, and he steered the ball in to become the first man in 37 years to score on his first two England appearances.
Welbeck’s booking – and Hodgson’s fury – came shortly afterwards. The England boss was probably considering how to replace the Manchester United man in Kiev when Welbeck extended his remarkable international scoring record.
Showing a neat turn of pace, Welbeck exposed some slack Moldovan defending as he raced onto Lambert’s long ball, skipped round Namasco and rolled the ball in.
Lambert was the provider for Welbeck’s second, too, finding his strike partner with a short pass that allowed him to clip a neat effort into the corner.
James Milner replaced Lambert before the end in what seemed a clear audition for Welbeck’s job, although a woeful stoppage time miss will not have done much to inspire confidence.
England: Hart, Walker, Cahill, Jagielka, Cole (Baines 45), Lampard, Gerrard, Wilshere (Barkley 59), Walcott, Lambert (Milner 70), Welbeck. Unused substitutes: Ruddy, Smalling, Carrick, Cleverley, Defoe, Young, Sterling, Townsend, Forster.
Moldova: Namasco, Armas, Golovatenco, Bordiyan, Bulgaru (Suvorov 57), Epureanu, Ionita (Onica 19), Alexandr Antoniuc,Dedov, Gheorghiev (Alexandru Pascenco 84), Sidorenco. Unused substitutes: Serghei Pascenco, Racu, Cebotaru, Doros, Boestean, Erhan, Grosu, Andronic, Cebanu.
Referee: Ivan Kruzliak (Slovakia).
GOAL: Rickie Lambert, left, nods in England’s second last night.