STRIKER Rickie Lambert will make his first England start in tonight’s World Cup qualifier against Moldova, manager Roy Hodgson has confirmed.
Lambert came off the bench to score the winning goal against Scotland on his debut last month. And now, with Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge both injured, the 31-year-old will get his first start at international level this evening when England host Moldova at Wembley.
Lambert was joint-top English scorer in the Premier League last season with 15 goals. He has maintained that form so far this season, following up his debut header against the Scots with a strike for Southampton against West Brom.
“I have picked the team and Rickie Lambert will start, yes,” Hodgson said. “He deserves a chance. I can’t deny, had Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge been available, it would have been harder for him to get a starting place but I am more than happy to have a player of his calibre to start this game.”
Hodgson all but named the starting XI for the qualifier against Moldova.
Kyle Walker, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and either Ashley Cole or Leighton Baines are expected to start in front of Joe Hart while Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Jack Wilshere will definitely play in midfield.
Hodgson confirmed that Arsenal’s Theo Walcott and Manchester United forward Danny Welbeck will provide Lambert with assistance from the flanks.
Sturridge was the obvious replacement for Rooney, who was ruled out for the games against Moldova and Ukraine last weekend with a head injury.
But the Liverpool striker carried a thigh injury into the Reds’ victory over Manchester United on Sunday and yesterday he was ruled out of tonight’s game.
The former Chelsea man has gone back to Liverpool for a day of rest and he will join up with the England squad on Sunday at the Grove Hotel in Watford.
The England medical team will then assess whether he is fit enough to fly to Ukraine for the crunch game in Kiev.
Hodgson is unsure whether he will make the trip to Ukraine. “[Sturridge] has worked hard at his treatment and the initial prognosis was that he wouldn’t be fit for either of them but he didn’t accept that,” said the manager.
“He’s worked very hard and had the necessary treatment but I think it will be touch and go.
Given that they trail leaders Montenegro by two points, and lead Ukraine by just one, England are desperate to rack up two wins in the next few days.
Hodgson has therefore bemoaned the fact that he will be without several key players.
“We’ve not exactly been lucky have we?” he said. “Now there’s Daniel and there was Wayne [Rooney] and two potential right-backs in Glen Johnson and Phil Jones, and before that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
“So we have lost five players and a few weeks ago I was really banking on them.