England’s character hailed by spot king Lampard

FRANK LAMPARD believes the late point England rescued against Ukraine could prove vital in a tough World Cup qualification group.

The Chelsea midfield play-maker netted his 26th international goal with just three minutes remaining at Wembley on Tuesday night to spare Three Lions blushes.

His late penalty was enough to bring Lampard level with Bryan Robson in the goal-scoring charts but, more importantly, it denied an impressive Ukraine outfit the win their display had possibly merited.

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With Montenegro thrashing San Marino on Tuesday and Poland beating Moldova, England are joint top of the fledgling Group H table with four points from two outings.

Next month brings hapless San Marino to Wembley on October 12 – a game captain Steven Gerrard will have to sit out through suspension following his red card against Ukraine – before Roy Hodgson’s side head to Warsaw for a tough assignment four days later.

Lampard, who netted twice in last Friday’s 5-0 win over Montenegro, said: “Ukraine are a good team with good players.

“Their wingers are particularly good and they also have experience running through the team. It won’t be an easy group because Poland and Montenegro are teams that can cause you problems as well.

“This is international football. Ukraine are no mugs and we are also looking to find the right blend with a few young players coming through.

“We won in Moldova and people got excited. But you have to keep your feet on the ground as getting to a finals is a process. Getting a point off Ukraine is another part of that.

“We held our nerve (on Tuesday). A lot of credit to us for that. The performance wasn’t vintage but we showed a lot of desire to get back into the game.

“We kept playing even as they sat back on the edge of their box in the second half. They might say they had a couple of chances but we certainly had chances to get back into the game earlier.”

Those “chances” included two spurned efforts by Tom Cleverley in the first half and Danny Welbeck firing against a post a few minutes before the Manchester United striker’s shot was handled by Yevgen Khacheridi inside the area to leave referee Cuneyt Cakir with no alternative but to point to the spot.

Gerrard was then dismissed two minutes later after collecting a second yellow card to effectively end any hopes of England snatching a dramatic late win.

It was the last of several puzzling decisions by the Turkish official, who in the first half had disallowed what seemed a perfectly legitimate goal by Jermain Defoe after being fooled by the theatrics of Andriy Yarmolenko when the Ukrainian claimed to have been smashed in the face.

Lampard added: “The disallowed goal was harsh. To me, he got away from his man by using his arms, which everyone does.

“I have never seen a foul given for that before. There were a lot of bookings, too. But I don’t want to criticise referees.”

On Tuesday’s draw with a Ukrainian side who played with more freedom without long-time talisman Andriy Shevchenko, Lampard said: “The thing we can take out of the game is that we stuck at it. It is difficult when teams sit deep and go man to man in midfield, which they did. They also let our back men have it.

“So maybe we have to show a bit more invention. We can’t criticise too much because we kept going. The substitutes who came on were very sharp and brought a new angle to our game.

“We got behind them, we had shots and we hit the post. We also had a goal disallowed early on that should have stood. So, while it was slightly slow at times, I think our character brought us through.

“The point could help us a lot. Poland and Montenegro have already drawn so the San Marino game is important.

“The group is well balanced and considering we were 1-0 down with a few minutes to go (against Ukraine), that seems a pretty good result to me. It could be very important.

“We should win against San Marino and after that comes Poland, which will be a very tough game.”

Lampard’s three strikes in the recent double-header means he now sits joint 13th in the all-time list of England goalscorers.

Bobby Charlton leads the way with 49, one ahead of Gary Lineker. But there are several players who Lampard can feasibly catch with Tom Finney, Alan Shearer, Nat Lofthouse and David Platt all within touching distance on 30 goals or under.

Lampard, whose 26th goal came in his 93rd cap, said: “I am proud of that (equalling Robson) but I was more pleased that it hit the back of the net to get us the point.

“There were only a few minutes left at that stage so we needed to score. Someone has to take it.

“Taking a penalty at that stage is never easy, especially when you have taken one a few days earlier. You know the goalkeeper will have seen that as they watch everyone they take.

“When it is so fresh in the mind, it can be a little bit of mind games.”