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Lampard hits out following Ferdinand criticism

Frank Lampard has jumped to the defence of Rio Ferdinand after the defender saw his contribution questioned following England's defeat to Ukraine on Saturday.

• Ukraine 1-0 England

Ferdinand was culpable in the immediate build-up to the incident that saw Ukraine awarded a penalty and Robert Green sent off after the goalkeeper brought down Artem Milevskiy in the first half of the World Cup qualifier.

The lapse by the Manchester United defender comes just weeks after his mistake allowed Craig Bellamy to score in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford and two months after another mistake gifted a goal to Holland's Dirk Kuyt in a friendly tie.

Ferdinand's form is cause for some concern at present and the defender, who has suffered from a number of injury problems in recent months, was not spared criticism in Monday's newspapers as the press picked over the remains of a first defeat for Fabio Capello in World Cup qualifying.

But Lampard is a firm supporter of his former West Ham team-mate, insisting that Ferdinand will regain his usual composure when England compete at the World Cup finals in South Africa.

"Rio's consistency, along with John, in the last four or five years puts them right at the top in centre halves for me," Lampard said. "It's unfortunate that there seem to be players taking stick at any one time.

"We need to get behind players, and Rio is certainly a big player. He's been fantastic for such a long time. When the big game comes you need big players, and Rio will deliver then.''

Lampard, speaking ahead of England's final qualifier against Belarus at Wembley on Wednesday, also defended Emile Heskey after the striker spoke openly about his future at Aston Villa. Heskey suggested he may have to leave the club in January if he continues to struggle for a starting place under Martin O'Neill.

"Emile has come out and said that, and fair play to him for saying that," Lampard said. "Every player will have that same mentality, because competition for places (with England) is fierce. The manager wants players who are playing well and who are in form. We are all fighting week in and week out to impress the manager.''

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