August 14, 2013
Lambert's dream debut
#INSERT type:image END#Rickie Lambert applied a Roy of the Rovers finish to a comic strip kind of game as England edged a five-goal thriller with Scotland at Wembley.The world's oldest international match was an annual staple throughout the comic book hero's halcyon days and a first meeting between the countries in 14 years was a worthy addition on the scroll of 111 fixtures.Played in a superb atmosphere, and with a passion and intensity seldom seem even in competitive matches at this level these days, Scotland led twice, through James Morrison and Kenny Miller, only to be pegged back by Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck.It was thrilling stuff, in which even debate over Wayne Rooney's fitness was easily cast aside. And even Scotland would acknowledge there could be no more fitting match-winner. Lambert has had to scrap every step of the way up the footballing ladder.Discarded by Blackpool, he spent his early years at Macclesfield, Stockport and Rochdale, before moving south to Bristol Rovers, where he got his big transfer to Southampton.And Lambert had rode the wave, up through the divisions, into the Premier League and tonight on to the end of Leighton Baines' corner, heading the winner with his very first touch.Having had victory on their last Wembley visit 14 years ago tarnished somewhat by overall defeat in a Euro 2000 play-off, Scotland must have sensed a real celebration when Morrison put them ahead.Times have changed somewhat since 1977, when the Tartan Army dug up the penalty area and broke the crossbar after one of their most famous wins.Yet enough had made the pilgrimage south of the border for some heavy duty acknowledgement of Scottish success to take place should it be required. A penny for Joe Hart's thoughts on the matter though. For, though there was venom in Morrison's effort after Shaun Maloney's corner had been cleared to the midfielder by Walcott, Hart should still have kept it out.The goalkeeper appeared to be in completely the wrong position though, and his efforts to keep the shot out only met with it bouncing in.Morrison ran away in celebration. Darlington-born he may be and a former England youth player at a number of levels but, thanks to his grandparents, it is to Scotland that he is committed, although at that precise moment it would have been a benefit to Roy Hodgson if he had been able to pick him, as Garth Crooks suggested last season.For a while, England were ragged. Watched from the stands by club boss David Moyes, a pundit for ITV, Rooney sparked but too often showed his clear lack of match sharpness.Rooney almost turned home an early Baines cross and had an effort incorrectly ruled out for offside after Steven Gerrard picked him out with a sublime pass.But there were plenty of heavy touches too, so it will be very interesting to see how Moyes plans to use him on Saturday, when United open their Premier League title defence at Swansea.As it turned out, another Manchester United player created the equaliser. Tom Cleverley may not be to everyone's liking but Hodgson is clearly a fan. For Cleverley has started each game he has been available for since Euro 2012. And the first-time pass that sent Walcott clear of the Scotland defence was perfect.Often criticised himself for poor finishing, the Arsenal man, who had scored just once since that famous hat-trick in Croatia almost five years ago, streaked into the box, steadied himself, cut inside Steven Whittaker and applied a cool finish.It might not exactly had been preparation for next month's vital World Cup qualifiers with Moldova and Ukraine as Hodgson suggested last week - but it was pulsating stuff. And following the half-time introduction of Frank Lampard, the sides exchanged goals in a frenetic four-minute burst.First Miller completely deceived Gary Cahill on the edge of the box before driving a shot into the bottom corner, then Welbeck rose highest in a crowded penalty area to nod home Gerrard's free-kick.Robert Snodgrass, then Grant Hanley, had to be pulled away from Walcott as temperatures began to boil over, them Lampard chopped down Maloney to stop the Wigan man advancing into dangerous territory.It was the kind of rough competitiveness rarely seen in friendly matches these days and Rooney must have been sorry to depart midway through the second period as Lambert was handed his debut.For someone with his background, it was a dream to be on the pitch. That he should score with his first touch as he powered Baines' corner into the net just made the moment even more magical.