England beat Poland, top the group

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Its Frank Lampard strike once again that give England a top spot in group six of a world cup qualifier against poland.

Stand-in skipper Michael Owen had capped a lively first half display from England by firing them ahead in the 43rd minute.

All that good work looked like being cancelled out when Polish substitute Tomasz Frankowski took advantage of a mix-up among the English back four to grab an equaliser seconds before the break.

But Lampard popped up eight minutes from the end to claim the winner with an acrobatic volley that made light of earlier misses by both Owen and the otherwise outstanding Wayne Rooney.

For Eriksson, England’s performance was the perfect riposte to the criticism he has had to endure in the wake of England’s defeats by Northern Ireland and Denmark and uninspiring wins over Wales and Austria.

“There will always be critics,” the Swede said with a smile. “But I think on Saturday (against Austria) they did a good job and today was even better.

“We have managed to turn it around. We started the season so and so, but now we are there, we have won the group and if we keep this spirt and this quality it is always difficult to beat us.

“They had one chance to score and they scored. I don’t know how many we had but it was a lot.”

From the outset, there was a vim to England’s performance that had been conspicuous by its absence in their previous outings this season, the high-tempo harrying of their opponents yielding a string of early half-chances. Unfortunately for the home side, the best of them fell to Ledley King, a centre-back plugging the gap in central midfield left vacant by the injured Steven Gerrard.

As early on the second minute, the Tottenham man found himself on the end of a John Terry knockdown from a Frank Lampard corner but a clumsy first touch denied him the chance of what should have been a clear shot at goal from 12 yards.

King’s control was better when he gathered a weak clearance from the Polish area just after the quarter hour mark, but his shot from the edge of the box comfortably cleared the crossbar.

Lampard also went close, testing Polish goalkeeper Artur Boruc with a well-timed header from the penalty spot after Joe Cole had combined well with Shaun Wright-Phillips.

There was also one delightful moment from Rooney, spinning off his own flick to bewilder Mariusz Jop before sidestepping another defender and fizzing a 25-yard shot narrowly over the angle of post and crossbar.

The Poles appeared to have little notion of how to cope with Rooney’s deft use of the space between their midfield and back four, or with the direct running of Wright-Phillips, standing in for David Beckham on the right flank.

It was the impressively energetic approach of the Chelsea midfielder, twisting and turning to win a corner on the right, that led to England’s opening goal, two minutes before half-time.

Lampard’s delivery was met with a weak clearance that Joe Cole half-volleyed back into the goalmouth, presenting Owen with the opportunity to claim his 33rd goal for his country with a touch inside the six-yard box.

Just as Poland looked like they might implode, they found themselves back on level terms, courtesy of a collective lapse in concentration from England’s back four.

A half clearance by Rio Ferdinand allowed the Poles to play Kamil Kosowski into space behind the defence on the right of the area with Charlton right-back Luke Young playing him onside.

Young then compounded his error by failing to pick up Frankowski as the substitute closed in at the back post to meet Kosowski’s chip in front of an empty net.

England should have been back in front seven minutes after the restart. A Ferdinand knockdown from another Lampard corner landed invitingly at Rooney’s feet but the teenager’s snatched volley sent the ball high into the Stretford End.

Owen spurned an even clearer chance in the 65th minute when a Cole cross found him beyond his marker on the edge of the six-yard area. The Newcastle striker’s header was powerful but close enough to Boruc for the Celtic goalkeeper to make a good save, diving to his right.

When Boruc pushed away another shot from Owen and then touched over a tricky deflected cross from Young in quick succession it looked as if Poland might be able to hold on for the draw they needed to top the group.

Instead England settled the match with a sweeping move that started with Crouch deftly gathering the ball inside his own box and playing Rooney into space in front of the centre circle. The ball was worked to Owen on the left hand side of the box and his chip was finished off by Lampard with a sweetly executed volley.