Belfast Telegraph

Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard can play together, says Roy Hodgson

By Ian Herbert

The England manager, Roy Hodgson, has insisted that he will not be affected by "past judgements" on the wisdom of playing Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard together in midfield and insisted that the partnership will get its chance, as the qualifying campaign for Brazil 2014 gets under way in Moldova this week.

Hodgson, whose preparations for Friday night's match in Chisinau's Zimbru Stadium were affected by the withdrawal yesterday of left-back Ashley Cole with a minor ankle injury sustained in Chelsea's Super Cup defeat to Atletico Madrid, appears ready to revive the pairing as the fulcrum of his midfield.

Getting the best out of the two in the same team was largely beyond the wit of Sven Goran Eriksson, Steve McClaren or Fabio Capello.

That Gerrard is the more naturally defensive of the two was epitomised by the way he did the holding job alongside Jamie Redknapp when he first broke into the Liverpool team. But his club manager, Brendan Rodgers, is not the first to have an immediate desire to get him in the more advanced roles.

"No one has [seen any obstacles] to them playing together," Hodgson said of the two – with whom in a starting line-up England have won 32 games, drawn 12 and lost seven.

"They're both very good players. It's simple. They haven't been together in my time as England manager and I don't see any obstacles as to why they can't play together in the England team. If they do play together, what are they going to play like? That's something for Steven and Frank to decide, because if they do get the chance to play together they'll have to take their chance and play well. I'll make my own judgements. If they play together then I'll decide whether the past judgements are correct."

Cole's availability for the more challenging of England's two qualifiers – against Ukraine at Wembley Stadium next Tuesday – is now in jeopardy, with Everton's Leighton Baines and Ryan Bertrand both available in Hodgson's squad as cover. The persistent ankle problems 31-year-old Cole has suffered in the past have prevented him from training for several days after games, though the extent of the latest injury is unclear. He has returned to Chelsea's Cobham base for treatment, ahead of further assessment by England's medical staff, who will consider his chances of winning a 99th cap next week.

The more pressing problem for Hodgson is an absence of strikers following Wayne Rooney's gashed thigh and Ashley Young's withdrawal with a knee injury. Danny Welbeck, Jermain Defoe and Daniel Sturridge are the remaining available strikers, with the obvious replacement being Aston Villa's Darren Bent.

A thigh strain has forced Manchester City's Jack Rodwell out of England Under-21s European Championship qualifier on Azerbaijan's plastic pitch, where Stuart Pearce's youngsters could clinch a play-off place if they win and Norway drop points on Thursday. Nottingham Forest's Henri Lansbury is also out with an ankle injury, though both could return when the Under-21s face the Norwegians next Monday.

Rare night off

Since making his England debut in the 3-1 victory at Albania in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers, Ashley Cole has played in 64 of England's last 75 competitive internationals.

He has played in England's last 16 competitive games – since being an unused substitute during the 3-0 victory over Belarus in October 2009.

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