With Rooney and Sturridge out, England has striker worries
With Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge ruled out through injury, England will be dipping into its pool of reserve strikers for goals against Moldova on Friday in World Cup qualifying.
Rickie Lambert, who scored against Scotland last month on his international debut, will make his first start in the absence of coach Roy Hodgson's first-choice forwards in a match England is expected to win comfortably after beating Moldova 5-0 a year ago.
England's players must then prepare for Tuesday's match in Ukraine which could be crucial in determining who finishes in the top two in Group H. Just three points separates group leader Montenegro, second-place England and the Ukrainians, who are third with four matches left in qualifying.
"We have not exactly been lucky, have we?'' Hodgson said on Thursday. "But it's a great opportunity for the ones who maybe wouldn't have got a game. It's up to them to do a job.''
Sturridge, arguably the form striker in the Premier League after scoring three successive winning goals for Liverpool, pulled out of the Moldova match with a thigh injury that has been troubling him for the past week and is "touch and go'' to play in Kiev next week, according to Hodgson.
Rooney, though, will definitely miss both matches after sustaining a deep cut to his forehead in an accidental training-ground collision at Manchester United.
In an effort to fend off accusations that he is not committed to the national team, Rooney was moved to post a picture online of the wound that England winger Theo Walcott described as "like something out of a horror film.''
Lambert, who once worked in a beetroot factory, capped his rise from the fourth tier to the Premier League by scoring 15 goals for Southampton last season and made a dream debut in international football at the age of 31 by coming off the bench to score the winner against Scotland with his first touch.
"It was the best moment of my career by a mile,'' Lambert said.
"We've come off a good win against Scotland so we are confident, especially myself, and I can't wait for Friday to begin.''
Hodgson's side should account for 123rd-ranked Moldova, but England won't be out of the woods in a group many expected the team to sail through. A loss in Ukraine next week could leave England in danger of missing out on second place and a spot in the playoffs.
"This is the crunch time. We have to get results,'' England defender Gary Cahill said.
It's also a big few days for first-choice goalkeeper Joe Hart, who let in a soft goal in the 3-2 win over Scotland last month and has been criticized at the start of the season for some mistakes made while playing for Manchester City.
"Sometimes it is difficult when you are England's No. 1,'' said James Milner, Hart's teammate with England and City. "People just remember the bad side and the good things are expected. He is an amazing keeper and what is being said will only make him stronger.''
Snatching a point is the best Moldova is hoping for.
"A draw with England would be a miracle for Moldova,'' coach Ion Caras said.
Also on Friday, Montenegro plays at fourth-place Poland, which needs a win to stand a chance of a top-two finish, and Ukraine will expect three points and a big victory at home against San Marino.
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