Prior to this particular examination in Ukraine, one of Frank Lampard’s former teachers washed up on the BBC to extol the benefits of the England centurion. It turns out ‘Lamps’ was as bright a pupil as he has been a midfielder with his old mentor claiming he could have attended university in his formative years rather than launch a burgeoning career at West Ham United in 1995.
“My advice to Frank for tonight? Carpe diem,” said the teacher back at the Chelsea midfielder’s old Essex secondary school. In Latin this means Seize the Day.
Lampard never quite seized the day on the night of his 100th cap, but England seized the draw. A 0-0 outcome against Ukraine in Kiev was perhaps about as riveting as long division, but as Lampard’s old teacher will tell you, all that matters is passing exams. Whether or not the subject matter sinks in in the long run.
Whatever is said about general ambition or technical limitations, Roy Hodgson’s side made the grade in Kiev despite playing in a stadium that had 30 home fans to every one England supporter amid a feverish 70,000 sporting a nationalistic yellow.
A couple of wins at Wembley against Montenegro on October 11 and Poland four days later will nudge England through to the finals in Brazil next summer as Group H winners. If they had been offered such a scenario at the start of the campaign, they would have gladly accepted it.
Lampard unearthed a diligent if workmanlike performance, but this proved to be an evening for the defenders rather than those coming in search of goals.
Lampard's Chelsea team-mate Gary Cahill produced a noble effort alongside Phil Jagielka at the centre of the visiting defence to restrict an average Ukraine side to an evening of few opportunities.
Ukraine did not manage a shot at goal in the first half. Much of this was down to the work of England’s central defence. There have been calls for John Terry to return, but these two players seem to be the here and now for Hodgson’s England. Certainly for the immediate future.
The much-maligned Manchester City winger James Milner was chosen to replace the suspended forward Danny Welbeck. He contributed heartily to England’s strategy in refraining from exposing Ashley Cole too often in the left-back role.
Milner has one goal in 41 caps. He is unfairly berated by some critics, but only because he listens to his manager.
He is not selected for such evenings to take leave of his senses, more installed as extra cover to ensure space and width are given short shrift when the home side attacks.
Milner could be happier with his evening’s work than Theo Walcott, whose lack of guile in the final third beggared belief.
He hobbled off injured late on, but one wonders what Walcott will do if or when he loses pace? This is no Ryan Giggs. Not even Dwight Yorke. He does not seem to have the football intelligence to repackage himself into a midfielder, or a wing-back. His touch is dreadful for someone performing at such a high state. One pass to Lampard from 15 yards away was truly farcical.
Overall, it was far from exotic stuff, and hardly pleasing on the eye with Rickie Lambert performing well in the first half as lone striker before tiring later on. But the smile on Hodgson’s side at the final whistle told of a job well done. Or at least task completed.
England are far from impregnable, but Hodgson must be bored with ex-players sticking the boot in from back home. And former strikers are not shy to have a shot. Gary Lineker called England “awful” on Twitter (it was later deleted) while the freshly retired Michael Owen, a man whose career was effectively over long before it should have been, was also tweeting.
“In terms of looking to the future, it’s hard to be positive. Few good performances, few average and a couple poor," he said.
What were England supposed to do last night? As Hodgson later pointed out, they were never going to ride roughshod over Ukraine on their home patch. A coy but unattractive approach was always likelier to bring in a harvest.
Lineker and Owen have been party to some shambolic performances abroad over the years (remember Euro ’88 and Euro 2000, chaps?) with England. Certainly a lot worse than this effort.
Hodgson’s remit as national coach is qualification for major tournaments. He is two wins short of that destination. If England overcome Montenegro, they will host a Poland side out of the running to qualify. It is a healthy position to be in. The end justifies the means.
Matters had started badly in Kiev with the awful singing of the national anthems from both sides perhaps hinting at the general sludge to come.
Ukraine were denied an obvious penalty in the opening moments when Joe Hart clawed at the feet of Roman Zozulya while missing the ball, but the referee awarded a corner.
Artem Fedetskyy had the best chance of the match with 17 minutes remaining, but could not connect with a free header from a corner-kick only five yards out.
Lampard might have won it for England when he guided a header narrowly wide from laughing gas user Kyle Walker's throw-in in the death throes of injury time. But it had the feel of 0-0 from some way out.
Elsewhere, the best 'earning money for old rope award' goes to ITV pundit Lee Dixon, who travelled all the way to Kiev to show he had done his homework on the potential threat of Ukraine. "I can see England winning tonight, but I can also see them losing.” he said. Quite.
Hodgson could see them drawing. Lineker and Owen need to get a life by extracting themselves from Twitter. Unlike England, they missed the point. Hodgson is no twit. He should be content with his lot last night whatever else is said to the contrary.