Montenegro 1 England 1 match report: Imperfect England suffer familiar blow after Wayne Rooney scores opener in Podgorica

The away side surrendered the lead in the second half

City Stadium

There is something imperfect at the heart of this England team, and  although they escaped Podgorica with their World Cup qualification campaign intact last night, you can see that these players know it too. A generation of players that cruised to the last two tournaments under Fabio Capello is losing its old powers to cope when the pressure is really on.

They really could have lost this game after being utterly dominated by Montenegro in the second half. There were toilet rolls thrown on the pitch, an aggressive Montenegrin fan leader with a loudhailer who sounded like the Cookie Monster and the acrid whiff of smoke flares. But you did not need to sniff the breeze to detect England’s fear, it was there in every uncertain touch.

They had taken the lead through Wayne Rooney in the first half and should really have finished the game off before half-time as the home team failed to get their act together. But the leaders of Group H, still by two points from England, whipped up a storm after the break and led by their captain Mirko Vucinic they scored a deserved equaliser through substitute Dejan Damjanovic. They might have won it.

As ever with England, it was the dull fade from the often crisp passing confidence of the first half to being holed up in their own area and the opposition growing in stature with every attack. The statistics told a grim story: they completed 250 passes in the first half compared to just 145 after the break.

It was much the same against Poland in October in Warsaw, and this time England fell back under waves of attacks until they were virtual prisoners in their own final third and then their own area where, after a series of corners, Montenegro eventually scored.

It is a problem for Hodgson and although three of their last four qualifiers are at Wembley, that remaining away game against Ukraine in September now looks like a worry, especially given how easily they have ceded the momentum in Warsaw and now Podgorica.

What’s happened to this side? They were unfortunate in the first half not to get a penalty when Danny Welbeck looked to have been clearly fouled by Stefan Savic as he ran down the left channel of the penalty area. The pitch which, for all the rain, looked dry and pitted was unhelpful to both teams but especially England who tried to move the ball quickly.

Yet, even so, there are worrying signs about this side. Steven Gerrard was not as imposing as he might once have been on a night like this. Rooney, having scored in the first half, struggled to break through the Montenegro defence again. Tom Cleverley looked overrun in the second half. At times it does feel that Hodgson’s England are caught between two generations, the waning of one and the rise of another.

After England finally, inevitably conceded they actually improved. Ashley Young replaced Cleverley and there was a free-kick from Gerrard that tested the goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic. In the meantime, the England manager himself just did not make changes to his team until Montenegro scored. Perhaps he felt the game was too finely balanced; perhaps he did not believe that he had the players capable of making that change.

 Hodgson made six changes from a team that won its last game by eight goals. It was always the likely outcome once San Marino was out the way. Leave aside the question of the missing centre-halves and the absence of Jack Wilshere and it  was close to a first choice XI, give or take the potential inclusion of Theo Walcott.

They started like a dream. Within three minutes, Glen Johnson had found Rooney’s down the right and with the Montenegro midfield nowhere to be seen he spotted Bozovic off his line and lobbed him. The ball hit the post.

Minutes later, Johnson had a left-footed drive tipped over by Bozovic and from Gerrard’s corner, Rooney was unmarked to head the ball in. It was his 35th goal for England but also his 26th in a competitive match for the national team, taking him equal with Michael Owen’s total, the record in that category.

The home side, inevitably, came into the game around the 20-minute mark but it was England who had the better chances. Switching positions, between the left and the centre, Rooney and Danny Welbeck were dangerous.

Rooney got a foot to James Milner’s driven ball to the backpost on 27 minutes but could not guide it on target and there was Welbeck’s penalty appeal when the Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson instead booked him for diving.Hodgson out of his seat in protest.

With Damjanovic on to give Montenegro greater strength down their right side against Welbeck, they were a different team in the second half. Johnson had picked up a needless booking with a clumsy tackle on Stevan Jovetic and looked uncertain. The loo rolls were on the pitch and it was squeaky bum time for  England.

Under the cosh 10 minutes into the half England were very lucky on 59 minutes when Joleon Lescott’s clearing header from a corner fell very nicely for Vucinic in the box and he unaccountably could not keep his shot down. Five minutes later Montenegro broke three on two against England and could not make the chance count.

In those anxious moments there were some solid performances from England, but not many. Milner, who sprinted back to help see off the aforementioned Montenegro break, did everything asked of him. Michael Carrick tried to keep the passing rhythm but England were just giving it away. Joe Hart did well in this period, coming for a number of corners and saving a Jovetic strike.

From the first corner, the ball deflected against Gerrard and off the post. From the second corner, England buckled. In spite of another Hart save, the England defence could not get the ball clear and it was forced over the line by Damjanovic. It had been coming. 

The response was better after that. Young came on and most of the attacking was from England at the end of the game. Gerrard’s free-kick was clumsily turned over by the Bozovic and the resultant corner from Young was poor when a better delivery would have asked question of the goalkeeper. A draw will have to do, but the memory of the second half will haunt Hodgson for some time yet.

Booked: Montenegro Novakovic, Volkov, Delibasic. England Johnson, Welbeck.

Man of the match Vucinic.

Match rating 8/10.

Possession: Montenegro 44%. England 56%.

Attempts on target: Montenegro 11. England 10. Referee J Eriksson (Swe).

Attendance 12,000.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
'I do think a woman's place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there.'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs live for fans at Enmore Theatre on June 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
music
Sport
Dave Mackay lifts the FA Cup in 1967 having skippered Spurs to victory
football
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
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

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn