England held on for what could be an important point following a 0-0 draw with Ukraine in Kiev Tuesday.
Ukraine made a fast start to the fixture but failed to convert its early dominance, as England sat back to soak up the consistent pressure.
Roy Hodgson’s side had chances of its own – Theo Walcott went close on two occasions while Frank Lampard nearly scored a late header – but Ukraine was the better side and could consider itself unlucky not to have scored.
Yevhen Konoplyanka was a consistent threat for the hosts, but England defended well to leave Kiev with a valuable point the leaves the Three Lions on top of Group H in European qualifying as a result, with just two fixtures left to play.
Ukraine may have thrashed San Marino 9-0 in its last fixture but that did not stop manager Mikhail Fomenko making four changes, with attacker Roman Zozulya and midfielder Taras Stepanenko among the inclusions.
In Lampard’s 100th appearance for England, the visitors made just one change to the team that cruised past Moldova 4-0, as James Milner replaced the suspended Danny Welbeck.
Zozulya could have won Ukraine a penalty in the first minute as Joe Hart lunged at him, but referee Pedro Proenca turned down the appeals, while at the other end Walcott went close. The Arsenal man showed superb pace to get in and behind Vyacheslav Shevchuk, only to be denied by the onrushing Andriy Pyatov.
The early chances set the tone for a frantic first 15 minutes as both sides attacked with vigor and had numerous opportunities to score.
Gary Cahill had a goal-bound header hacked away by Artem Fedetskiy, and the Chelsea defender was instrumental at the other end, making three important clearances to deny the hosts.
One of those interceptions was particularly vital, with Oleg Gusev denied the chance to shoot, as Konoplyanka was proving a real threat with his pace and delivery on the left wing.
It was impossible for the match to be played at that pace for 90 minutes, and a lull was inevitable, as England put extra attention on Konoplyanka and dropped back to deny its opponents space.
It led to a successful period for the visitors, who created attempts on goal through Rickie Lambert and captain Steven Gerrard, while Zozulya’s touch let him down after a terrific ball from Konoplyanka on the stroke of halftime.
Ukraine nearly opened the scoring in the 58th minute as a Konoplyanka cross was flicked on by Andriy Yarmolenko and then Zozulya, but Gerrard saved the day with a timely clearance.
Konoplyanka then went close with a free kick in the 71st minute, but he saw his effort deflected behind by Phil Jagielka, while Fedetskiy could only direct a free header at Hart.
Walcott had a good chance for England at the other end, flicking just wide with eight minutes to play, while Lampard almost scored a late header, but both sides settled for the point, creating a tight three-team race along with Montenegro for the automatic World Cup berth and playoff berth to come out of Group H.