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Byline: MARTIN LIPTON Chief Football Writer

FAIRY TALES are not supposed to happen in football.

Not at 31, when you have reached the top by way of Bloomfield Road, Moss Rose, Spotland and a Merseyside beetroot-bottling factory.

But on a night when Roy Hodgson and England stared humiliation in the face, the most unlikely of heroes sent Scotland homewards, to think again.

For most of a match punctuated by horrible errors, the golden sands of Rio's Copacabana felt a long way away from a wet and worrying Wednesday at Wembley. If this was Plan A, then Hodgson surely had to be starting to think of Plan B as blunders at the back by Joe Hart and then Gary Cahill were punished by James Morrison and Kenny Miller.

Twice England hit back, Theo Walcott - culpable for the opener - streaking clear to find the net in the first half and then Danny Welbeck heading home.

But even with Wayne Rooney playing more than an hour - I wonder what David Moyes really thought about that - and a 45-minute cameo from Jack Wilshere, what followed when the Scouser departed became the stuff of fantasy.

On trotted Rickie Lambert, who had not even played in the Championship 24 months ago.

And when Leighton Baines floated over a corner, Lambert soared to make dreams come true, thundering home a header that brought a smile as wide as the Solent from the Southampton man. The pre-match scenes in Trafalgar Square were a reminder of the occasionally inglorious history of football's oldest international fixture.

But this was all about the immediate future. The full-backs apart, this was arguably Hodgson's first-choice side, pretty much the team he planned to field against Moldova.

The attention, even more than usual, fell on Rooney. This was supposed to be the night he sent out a message.

Instead, after 11 minutes which had seen Wilshere, hinting at his promise and Rooney failing to make proper contact from a Baines cross, England opted for implosion.

Phil Jagielka needlessly conceded a corner. Shaun Maloney took it and Danny Welbeck headed away to Walcott, who scuffed an attempted clearance.

Morrison picked up the ball and advanced, Steven Gerrard reacted too late and Hart made a mess of the shot which slithered right through him from 23 yards.

A shocker. The Manchester City keeper looked like a man who wanted to hide his head - and shoulders.

As the Scotland fans went wild, England did not exactly respond.

Rooney initially appeared as short of match practice as Moyes had warned, Gerrard's passing was off-beam, Walcott affected by his error.

Indeed, it took 15 minutes for England to create anything serious. Tom Cleverley exchanged with Walcott and was in place to receive Rooney's lay-off, only for his shot to be blocked by Russell Martin before the United midfielder stumbled over the ball.

Within a minute, though, Cleverley's brilliant, first-time pass sent Walcott galloping away into the box, side-stepping the hapless Steven Whittaker before sliding the ball between Allan McGregor and his near post.

Relief, and Walcott's fifth England goal, the Arsenal man almost instantly returning the favour for Cleverley, who scuffed his shot into the ground and the keeper's hands.

Rooney dragged just wide after good work by Wilshere and Welbeck as England appeared energised and enthused, where they had been listless and lame.

And only a terrible offside call prevented them leading at the break, Gerrard picking out Rooney who controlled on his chest to crash home, only for the flag, wrongly, to have been raised.

Hodgson kept to his agreement with Arsene Wenger over Wilshere, Frank Lampard earning his 98th cap. But four minutes after the restart, Cahill sold himself when Miller received from Maloney, giving the veteran, now with the Vancouver Whitecaps, time to turn and fire home. Desperate stuff, but this time England reacted swiftly. McGregor prevented Martin putting Gerrard's free-kick through his own net but the England skipper's next delivery was powered home by Welbeck, completely unmarked.

Now it was England pressing.

Lampard was denied by McGregor and Welbeck whistled wide before Rooney was replaced by Lambert.

The impact was instant, Wembley rising in acclaim as Lambert netted, and only a terrific McGregor save kept out Lampard's swerver soon afterwards.

Lambert could have had two more, hitting a post from four yards and then being thwarted by McGregor.

Victory, deeply unconvincing, but victory. And a comic-book story, too.

England. v scotland MATCH STATS 64% BALL POSSESSION 36% 8 SHOTS ON TARGET 2 8 SHOTS OFF TARGET 3 8 CORNERS 32 OFFSIDE 1 14 FOULS 6 3 0 CARDS 1 0 MAN OF THE MATCH i DANNY WELBECK: Striker got much better as the match wore on


PLENTY TO PONDER ?Roy Hodgson was made to sweat
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Title Annotation:Sport; Opinion, Columns
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 15, 2013
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