England inched closer to qualifying for next year's FIFA World Cup™ after surviving a number of scares to record a potentially crucial 0-0 draw against Ukraine in Kiev. Ukraine had an early penalty appeal waved away and gave the visitors several nervous moments on a tense night at the Olympic Stadium, but Roy Hodgson's men held on to move a point clear in Group H.
Victories over Montenegro and Poland in their final two home games next month will give England a place in Brazil, but they will hope for improved performances after a muddled display in the Ukrainian capital. The draw means Ukraine remain within a point of England - although they are now in second place, above Montenegro on goal difference - and with games against Poland and San Marino to come, they are ready to pounce if the leaders stumble.
As expected, England manager Hodgson awarded a 100th cap to Frank Lampard and replaced the suspended Danny Welbeck with James Milner in the only alteration to the team that beat Moldova 4-0 on Friday. There were four changes to the Ukraine side that had thrashed San Marino 9-0, with captain Anatoliy Tymoshchuk among the players dropping out, but as England captain Steven Gerrard had predicted, they flew out of the blocks.
The hosts might have been awarded a penalty within seconds, after Roman Zozulya tumbled under a challenge from England goalkeeper Joe Hart, but referee Pedro Proenca diplomatically awarded a corner.
In response, Ukraine goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov fielded a 30-yard effort from Gerrard and saved at the feet of Theo Walcott, while Gary Cahill had a goal-bound header blocked by Artem Fedetskiy.
It was Ukraine who carried the greater threat, however, and England looked particularly vulnerable on the flanks during a frantic opening 15 minutes in front of a noisy 70,000-strong crowd.
Cahill had to hook the ball away from Oleg Gusev following a dart down the left by Yevgen Konoplyanka and Fedetskiy twice failed to exploit promising situations after ghosting in behind England left-back Ashley Cole.
Watching from home, former England defender Rio Ferdinand tweeted that Konoplyanka was a "lively little customer", but his counterpart in the England No10 shirt, Jack Wilshere, was unusually sloppy with the ball.
Gerrard tried his luck with a shot from 25 yards that landed on the roof of the net, but although England struggled to create clear chances, the defence, marshalled superbly by Cahill, grew more assertive.
Both sides made changes midway through the second half, Roman Bezus coming on for Ukraine, Ashley Young for England, before the visitors had a narrow escape.
Kyle Walker sent Zozulya sprawling right on the edge of the England box, but Proenca awarded a free-kick and Konoplyanka's shot was deflected wide.
Hart caught a header from Fedetskiy as the noise in the stadium began to rise, and although Walcott and Lampard went close late on, England already appeared to have settled for a draw.