Townsend lifts England over early nerves
Hodgson’s team just one game from qualifying
England 4 Montenegro 1: For England, everything now boils down to what happens against Poland on Tuesday. Roy Hodgson’s team will need to win, on the basis that Ukraine simultaneously play San Marino, but they will go into their final assignment of Group H in a considerably improved frame of mind given the manner in which they took Montenegro out of the reckoning.
There were passing moments when it threatened to go horribly wrong, such as when Dejan Damjanovic scored to make it 2-1 with a good 20 minutes still to go.
Yet England had been considerably the better side and Andros Townsend quickly soothed the crowd’s nerves with the goal he deserved to add to Wayne Rooney’s effort at the start of the second half and an own goal from Branko Boscovic.
England will have to make do without Kyle Walker against the Poles, suspended after a second-half booking, but they can take great encouragement from this performance, sealed in stoppage-time by a Daniel Sturridge penalty.
Hodgson’s team began this game with confidence. Yet it quickly became apparent this was going to be a night when, for long spells, the Wembley crowd would be consumed with apprehension.
The weather had already brought back memories of the infamous and tumultuous night against Croatia that had extinguished their hopes of reaching Euro 2008 and cost Steve McClaren his job and, midway through the first half, there was a palpable shift in the mood as the news started to filter through that Andriy Yarmolenko had scored for Ukraine against Poland.
Sense of foreboding
The volume went down immediately and the sense of foreboding was not eased by the fact that, for the most part, Montenegro were defending with great vigour and togetherness.
The disappointing part for England throughout the rest of the first half was that, for all their possession in advanced areas of the pitch, they did not have the wit or guile to get behind the opposition defence.
Rooney certainly chose a good time to score because, if the game had gone on much longer without a goal, it was easy to imagine the crowd’s nerves infiltrating the players’ minds.
Yet Townsend had shone all night and his goal was a beauty, darting inside, turning away from one opponent and then unleashing a right-foot effort that curled away from goalkeeper Vukasin Poleksic into the bottom corner. England’s fourth goal by Sturridge from the penalty spot calmed the nerves even further.
ENGLAND: Hart, Walker, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines, Townsend (Wilshere 80), Gerrard (Milner 87), Lampard (Carrick 65), Welbeck, Rooney, Sturridge. Subs not used: Ruddy, Smalling, Gibbs, Jones, Barkley, Defoe, Lambert, Forster. Booked: Walker.
MONTENEGRO: Poleksic, Pavicevic (Beqiraj 57), Jovanovic, Savic, Kecojevic, Volkov (Vukcevic 73), Boskovic, Zverotic, Drincic, Jovetic (Kasalica 81), Damjanovic. Subs not used: Blazic, Vesovic, Delibasic, Novakovic, Krkotic, Igumanovic, Janjusevic. Booked: Pavicevic, Volkov.
Referee: AU Mallenco (Spain).