...and they did. David Moyes can afford to smile a little after his United side got noticeably stronger over 90 minutes. That's not happened enough times this season...
As long as there is both football and human weakness, there will be allegations of match-fixing. But a decent start would be an independent, national body...
Sat at Wembley on Friday night watching England's professionals beat a pick-up team of lower-league players, it was inevitable that thoughts would wander. Steven Gerrard's fine opening goal came in only the 12th minute but the Mexican waves had come in less than half that time, and there were more valid distractions: the games going on in Lviv and Warsaw. But with Wembley only two-thirds full there was a sense that lots of people had something better to do with their Friday nights.
In the buildup to the Moldova match, anyone with the appropriate cookie record will have been bombarded with adverts for tickets, but those banners also plugged October's games against Montenegro and Poland. It may just have been making the most of the opportunity and getting more than 60,000 for Moldova would be considered a triumph anywhere else on earth, but if the gates for Group H's denouement fall well short of capacity then it will be discomforting for Greg Dyke and his new Football Association colleagues.
FIFA's and UEFA's craven scheduling, imposing on European qualifiers a solution to club concerns about South American players' jetlag, plays a part, a Saturday game becoming one staged in the immediate aftermath of Friday rush hour. With the Euro 2016 qualifiers being staggered even more to maximise marketing and TV income, the lot of the supporter who actually travels to internationals is going to deteriorate further, and crowds will surely be hit. Not good news for an FA with a state-of-the-art stadium to pay for.
Nor are games against such weak opponents when the team are failing to win their other qualifiers. May's awful match against the Republic of Ireland excepted, the friendlies of the past 13 months - Italy in Bern, Sweden, Brazil twice, Scotland - have been more keenly contested and compelling than four of the competitive games. Whatever pleasure can be had from the dispatch of the minnows is dependent on the context of the group: win your other games and the minor ones are parties; struggle in those that matter and the lesser games are distractions; fail to qualify and you risk them becoming the embarrassment that was Graham Taylor's side going behind against San Marino, all of 20 years ago this November but still a scar, or Steve McClaren's rage-filled away game against Andorra.
We have recovered from failing to qualify in the past. In criticising Greg Dyke's speech, John Nicholson recalled the horrors of the 70s, when four tournaments in a row were missed (albeit with far fewer teams qualifying); dark days, but there was a renaissance of sorts. Neither Taylor nor McClaren managed to kill off England, either, despite failing to make it to greatly expanded tournaments. Bobby Robson, even, went from missing out on Euro 84 in his first campaign to a World Cup semi-final in his last.
But in the 70s, 80s and early 90s there was no modern Champions League (which was just a couple of small leagues containing champions in the first years after it replaced the knockout European Cup) and the domestic game was not a globally popular behemoth. International football was the undisputed big stage and everyone yearned to be back on it, with the hosting of Euro 96 helping enormously after Taylor.
In less propitious circumstances, McClaren's successor, Fabio Capello, recovered from some early friendly hiccoughs with the 4-1 win in Croatia, the first of a series of landslide victories that reinstilled our traditional foolhardy optimism and elevated England.
Roy Hodgson is operating in the shadow of that false dawn, and also of the McClaren mess. We have no home tournament on the horizon. Leaving to one side any discussion of the current manager's strengths and weaknesses, and successes and failures, it is worth observing how much may be riding on a successful qualification this autumn. And if we slip in Ukraine, how full and vocal will Wembley be against Montenegro and Poland, and in a potential play-off?
Assorted factors combine against the international game and if we slip into the pit it will surely be harder to climb out this time.
No pressure, Roy.
@macduff, I think this team is marginally better than the one that played Ukraine last summer. The manager has had more time to work with the players, and the ludicrous Terry-Ferdinand row has been put to bed, by virtue of both retiring. We're not endlessly waiting the return of some "saviour", as we were last year; a saviour so tragically shorn of match fitness it was scandalous that it was even allowed to happen, upon reflection. The loss of Welbeck is a blow, because his performances have been pretty good and he provides an outlet and an option not provided by our other players. But we have a strong team, with Wilshere, Gerrard and Lampard all fit and ready to play, and that midfield provides an experienced and skillful foundation to build on.- HarryBoulton