International Friendly: Hodgson's striking conundrum

England boss prefers to play Rooney as central striker, but whoever partners him is open to debate

FAIRY tales do not come any better than this.

With his first touch as an England player, 31-year-old Rickie Lambert, a veteran of the lower leagues, hammered home the header that secured victory for his country against the auld enemy Scotland.

If Lambert never plays for England again, he will retire knowing that he has fulfilled every English boy's dream.

This is fortunate because, listening to Roy Hodgson after the game, it became apparent that that's precisely what might happen.

"There might be a bit more competition next time," cautioned Hodgson.

"Daniel Sturridge is hopefully back after playing 45 minutes behind closed doors yesterday. Andy Carroll is not far from full fitness. We'll see in three weeks."

England's front line is the most contentious issue for Hodgson to resolve ahead of crucial upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Joe Hart made another error yesterday morning (Singapore time), but he has no serious challengers for the No. 1 spot and will almost certainly survive.

Phil Jagielka and, in particular, Gary Cahill, looked less than secure, but the days of Rio Ferdinand and John Terry have drawn to a close.

They are the best that England have. Tom Cleverley was quiet, but Jack Wilshere excelled in the middle with Steven Gerrard, while Frank Lampard did enough in the second half to confirm that he is still worthy of a place.

The midfield is fairly settled. But it's the attack where the doubts lie.

Hodgson prefers to play Wayne Rooney as a central striker and the fact that he was chosen to start at Wembley despite a woeful calendar year, an injury-hit preseason and obvious personal problems is proof of his faith in the Manchester United man.

In a generation that has produced more tin than gold, Rooney brings the sparkle.

Assuming that he's fit, happy and mentally balanced.

If he isn't, of course Hodgson will go for a more old-fashioned spearhead.

Carroll performed excellently for England at Euro 2012, only to be replaced by Rooney when his suspension was served. At West Ham, assuming that he was fit, happy and mentally balanced, he was an unstoppable force of nature. It seems likely that Hodgson will return to him when he recovers from his foot problem.

Lambert is a similar player to Carroll, powerful in the air and deceptively intelligent in his movement, but he will have to recreate last season's form for Southampton and hope that Carroll's injury problems continue.

Hodgson likes to play inside forwards, quick attackers who can cut in and support the central striker and, in this, he has many options.

Theo Walcott remains an unpredictable variable.

His goal at Wembley was the product of a determined run, albeit with a scuffed finish, and his pace is absolutely priceless.

But issues remain over his intelligence on the ball.

His concluding part in England's first goal has been well covered in the press, his part in Scotland's opening goal, a weak and careless clearance, much less so.

Danny Welbeck has given himself a real chance of a regular role in the last week.

A mature performance in the Community Shield last Sunday was followed by a strong display here.

Aerial ability allied with pace and technique make him quite the asset.

What he needs to do is score more goals for Manchester United.

Welbeck hit just one in 26 appearances last term.

Lucky for him that the World Cup is next summer and not last summer.

Sturridge's encouraging start with Liverpool has made him an option worth considering.

If he can continue to display selflessness and awareness at Anfield, he will almost certainly make the squad for the remaining qualifiers.

It may be too late for other contenders.

Time is surely up for Peter Crouch. Jermain Defoe will need to see off the challenge of Robert Soldado at White Hart Lane.

He has undoubted qualities. What he needs is a stand-out season.

All of which is enough to put a dampener on Lambert's celebrations.

England have choices. Not first-class choices, admittedly, but there is a selection of flawed forwards available to Hodgson, all with higher profiles.

The best thing Lambert can do now is to listen to the other part of Hodgson's press conference.

"It's up to him to go out for Southampton and do what he did last year," said the England boss.


Get The New Paper for more stories.