Ross Barkley at the double as England hit Montenegro for five
Win overshadowed by racist chanting after Hudson-Odoi and Rice make full starts
Ross Barkley celebrates his opening goal with Callum Hudson-Odoi. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty
Montenegro 1 England 5
By the time they had finished, it seemed barely believable that there was a brief while when England looked in danger of losing a qualifying match for the first time in nearly 10 years. Only brief, mind. Gareth Southgate’s players quickly shook their heads clear and set about reminding England’s followers why they can trust this team in a way that scarcely felt possible not too long ago.
It was certainly a profitable night for Callum Hudson-Odoi who left the impression, at the age of 18, that he seems to find it rather bewildering that anyone might think a few butterflies might creep in on the occasion of his first England start. This is a man – well, boy, really – who seems immune to stage-fright. His contribution included the decisive part in England’s second goal and when a teenage debutant can flourish this way it is just another reason to think positively about Southgate’s ongoing work.
Declan Rice can also reflect on a successful introduction to England’s starting lineup. Harry Kane scored the 22nd goal of his England career, putting him level with Tommy Lawton and Peter Crouch. Raheem Sterling continued his own scoring run and perhaps this was the night when Ross Barkley, with two of the goals, started to feel like he could dominate, rather than decorate, international matches.
True, it should not be overlooked that Montenegro are 46th in Fifa’s world rankings – two places below the Czech Republic side who were thrashed 5-0 at Wembley last Friday – but England’s response was still impressive after the jolt of finding themselves 1-0 behind.
Incredibly, the last time England lost a qualifying match of any description was in October 2009 when Fabio Capello’s team went down 1-0 in Ukraine, on a night most memorable for Rob Green being sent off inside the opening quarter of an hour. England’s unbeaten sequence in qualifiers extends to 41 matches since that game in Dnepropetrovsk but it certainly came as a surprise when Marko Vesovic capitalised on some iffy defending to gave the home nation a 17th-minute lead. Michael Keane, in particular, was at fault for England. Keane will feel a lot better for scoring the equaliser, on the half-hour mark, but he should also be acutely aware that his first requirement as one of England’s centre-backs is to keep out the opposition – and he did not do it well enough.
The most encouraging part for Southgate must have been the way his players responded to going behind in what had been built up as a febrile and fearsome environment. Hostile? Well, it is certainly difficult to think of too many stadiums where the stand behind each goal is covered in 60ft-high netting. Its presence, presumably, was to prevent the kind of scenes that happened when these sides met in 2013 and Joe Hart was pelted by cigarette lighters, coins, pens and toilet rolls. The stands were penned in by the kind of metal fences that have not been seen in English football for nearly 30 years and the guy with the megaphone, standing precariously on the ledge of the most boisterous stand, certainly made some din.
Ultimately, though, it would not say much for England’s credentials to be recognised as an elite team if their players were troubled by the noise and colour of a 15,000-capacity stadium where one side of the ground was dwarfed by the trees in the adjacent car park. It actually felt quite tame compared with England’s previous visit, when the home supporters had started brawling with each other. One guy in the home end did hold up a Scotland flag during God Save the Queen – but that was about as terrifying as it got and, in reality, there was also spontaneous applause. Then the game started and the crowd’s whistles were not for Southgate’s players but more the long delay before the team in red could acquaint themselves with the ball.
The number-crunchers showed England had 72 per cent of the ball during the opening quarter of an hour. What Southgate’s players could not do at that stage was make their superiority count and, almost out of nowhere, they found themselves behind when Keane missed a tackle in the penalty area and Vesovic suddenly had the opportunity to take aim. It was a splendid finish, curled to the left of Jordan Pickford, and that certainly presented England with a test of nerve.
For the rest of the first half, they passed that test with distinction. Keane’s goal was a header from Ross Barkley’s free-kick and another example of how England, in the Southgate era, carry a substantial threat from set plays.
Then, nine minutes later, Hudson-Odoi, who had swapped flanks with Raheem Sterling, took up the ball on the left of the Montenegro penalty area. The debutant cut inside two defenders to fire his shot towards the goal and Barkley applied the decisive touch, just in front of the goalkeeper, to give England the lead.
Barkley’s second goal, in the 59th minute, was struck from close to the penalty spot after some persistent work from Sterling on the right.
Sterling also set up Kane to slide in the fourth goal and then slipped in one of his own after a through ball from the substitute Jordan Henderson, making his 50th England appearance.
Danny Rose was booked near the end and received monkey chants from the Montenegro fans. - Guardian