James Lawton: England fail to shake off the past as Wayne Rooney confronts his demons in Montenegro

The Manchester United striker was not only influential, he had moments that touched serenity

Wayne Rooney came to a place where before he had found only ignominy and for a little while he chased away every demon. He also gave England an invitation to announce they really are a world-class force. Unfortunately, it plainly requires more than a superior performance from one individual running out of the shadows to work such a transformation.

England surrendered the high ground won by Rooney and at the end they were still trailing in their pursuit of a place in the World Cup finals.

Some argued pragmatically that a point is a point but no one should hide behind such a mole-hill of encouragement. Once again England, by the most severe demands of international football, were not quite fit for purpose.

Rooney had nothing to say in the build-up, which at times suggested that England were facing one of the great challenges of football history rather than the passing risk of a most costly ambush.

However, there was ice in those pale blue eyes when he walked back into the place where he had betrayed both his country and himself 17 months earlier and, as they say, it so much better to walk the walk than talk the talk. Best of all is to bring to bear all of your gifts and a perfect concentration of mind.

The man whose shocking lapse here in that fraught European qualifier was said to have made him a point of vulnerability to be ruthlessly exploited, and whose international career has rarely if ever returned to the authority he displayed as a teenager in the 2004 European finals in Portugal, was not only sharply influential, he had moments which touched, well, something rather close to serenity.

Whether he will ever again produce again the perception and the dynamism he displayed all those summers ago has to remain debatable but what was never in doubt in his opening statement was that he, along with his United team-mates Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley, were operating on a superior level to their hitherto overachieving opponents.

It was the perfect antidote to the absurd proposition that England had reasons to doubt their ability to produce sufficient professionalism, and rounded talent, to repair the damage already sustained in a qualifying group which had been made to resemble a minefield.

Had Rooney’s beautifully flighted lob not hit a post, with goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic stumbling in no-man’s-land, it would have made the most crushing announcement that fears over the threat of Montenegro had become much ado about not so very much. His headed goal from Steven Gerrard’s perfectly delivered corner after six minutes made the same point, though perhaps not as eloquently.

The essential point was that England had achieved their first vital task. They had reminded everyone in the volatile City Stadium, and most importantly themselves, that really they occupied a superior rung of the football ladder.

That reality was now on the record but was it irrevocable? It is a question that too often lurks on the margins of any England performance the opening phase of the second half did not carry too much in the way of reassurance. Indeed, there were disturbing reminders of the bad night in Podgorica when Rooney was banished and England surrendered a 2-0 lead. On this occasion they were fortunate that neither of the stars of Montenegro, Stevan Jovetic of Fiorentina and Mirko Vucinic of Juventus, were able to convert good chances.

England’s sense of well-being was dissipating at an alarming rate, sufficiently certainly for Montenegro’s coach, Branko Brnovic, to recover some of the swagger he had displayed in his pre-matching baiting of England. Joe Hart was required to make several brilliant saves before Brnovic had another reason to leap from his dugout, this time to celebrate his decision to send on the hard-driving substitute Dejan Damjanovic at the start of the second half. It was Damjanovic who slotted in the equaliser after another barrage on Hart’s goal.

England’s Roy Hodgson could only bury his head at the possibility that the absurdity had come so close to fulfilment, that a pocket state of 600-odd thousand were at very least maintaining their two-point lead at the head of the race for Rio.

It could have been worse. England could have crumpled completely under the pressure of Montenegro’s second-half recovery. Instead, they merely chased that obligation which had pressed so heavily in the Balkan night. It was to produce, from under the weight of much heavy talk, a big performance, an announcement that England really do belong somewhere around the top of world football. It was an ambition that blew away with the smoke of the flares that signalled another ultimately grim night in Montenegro.

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?