Desmond Kane

‘Cinderella Man’ Lambert set for first true test

Desmond Kane

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Better to be lucky than good. Rickie Lambert's performance against Moldova contained elements of rich goodness and true fortune, but this glorious football prospector's riveting start in an England shirt must be valued against the quality of opposition he has ripped up.

If you can judge a man by the company he keeps then perhaps it would be wiser to keep the pre-Brazilian bunting and the Great Escape theme tune on hold. For now at least. Goals against Scotland and Moldova will not lead Lambert nor England to the palace of wisdom. Nor the World Cup finals next summer.

Roy Hodgson’s side are top of Group H on goal difference from Montenegro after last night's 4-0 shredding of Moldova at Wembley, but those finals in South America remain as close as they are far away with three potentially exacting games against Ukraine in Kiev on Tuesday, and home matches with Montenegro and Poland in October yet to hurdle.

At least they have characters heartened for the travails ahead. The Southampton forward Lambert has every right to smile broadly these days. He scored one goal on his debut in last month's friendly against Scotland, and could have had three in a 3-2 win. He scored one goal against Moldova, and provided two assists for Danny Welbeck to net twice in last night's 4-0 training exercise.

Lambert's weight of pass for Welbeck's two goals suggests he is more than just a striker, but dropping deep to float balls into space at will against a side ranked 123rd in those much-maligned FIFA world rankings does not suddenly catapult him into the reckoning as a figure who can play in the hole with ease.

Scoring after debuting as a late substitute for England against a Scotland defence tiring and much-changed will mean little if Lambert fails over the next month or so.

Those two matches at Wembley provided a slightly mollycoddled introduction to life in international climes, but Tuesday's match against Ukraine in Kiev is a much more complicated assignment.

Lambert, a Johnny-come-lately at the age of 31, is the first England player to score on his first two caps since Peter Taylor in 1976, but one should be cautious. Moldova represented a poorer level of opponent than the forward was used to when rummaging around the nether regions of the English game with Macclesfield, Stockport, Rochdale, Bristol Rovers and Southampton until they joined the Premier League.

With Danny Welbeck suspended and unavailable for the match against Ukraine due to a woeful decision by a Slovakian referee Ivan Kruzliak to book him for walloping a shot at goal a second after an offside flag was raised, Lambert appears to be the prime candidate for a starting berth with Wayne Rooney and Andy Carroll both injured.

Such an inclusion would certainly not be calamitous as he has the intelligence to play the lone striker's role with some degree of certainty, but the wiser choice for Roy Hodgson would be opting for the Liverpool forward Daniel Sturridge up top if he has recovered sufficiently from the thigh problem suffered against Manchester United last weekend.

Contrary to some critics, Sturridge is a highly intelligent exponent of keeping the ball, dropping deep and bringing team-mates into play. He has a voracious appetite for work and a record to support his talents. He has scored nine goals in his past eight outings in the Premier League. He has scored five in four games this season.

Sturridge would be the man to call on in Kiev. His goal against Aston Villa in Liverpool's 1-0 win a fortnight ago was something Luis Suarez would have been overjoyed with. His condition might yet dictate travel to Kiev on Sunday is out of the equation once he has been assessed by England's medical staff.

Similarly, James Milner looks a handier man to turn to in Ukraine than Ashley Young. Milner would bring a bit more resolve to England's midfield in covering the runs of Ashley Cole.

Milner ballooned an effort over the bar from five yards in the death throes of last night's contest, but he will not be included in the side to face Ukraine for his goal-scoring abilities.

Lambert will. He is England's 'Cinderalla Man', but like James J. Braddock defeating Max Baer to win the world heavyweight boxing title in the 1930s, Lambert must punch above his class weight against Ukraine. 15 goals in the Premier League last season suggests he should be far from a novelty cult hero in such environs.

Lambert once stuck lids on beetroot jars to earn extra cash during his formative years in football. He could yet be responsible for sealing his country's place in Rio. So far he has proved that being in the right place at the right time remains a telling aspect of life.

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