Andros Townsend (pictured centre) had an England debut to remember as he starred in the Three Lions’ first ever win over Montenegro.
Wayne Rooney broke the deadlock after a frustrating first half. Branko Boskovic’s own goal then doubled the advantage, but Dejan Damjanovic pulled one back.
Townsend sealed victory, however, with a superb individual effort. A similar burst out wide punctuated the build-up to the Rooney goal.
Daniel Sturridge then won and converted a stoppage time penalty that capped a strong second half display from England.
Roy Hodgson made five changes from the drab draw in Ukraine. Theo Walcott and Ashley Cole missed out through injury. Rickie Lambert, James Milner and Jack Wilshere, following his comments on international selection, all dropped to the bench.
Strikers Sturridge and Rooney returned from injury whilst Danny Welbeck was back from a ban. Leighton Baines deputised at left back and Tottenham Hotspur winger Townsend made his senior Lions bow.
Montenegro were missing six regular squad members, the absence of captain Mirko Vucinic being felt most keenly. Premier League pair Stevan Jovetic and Elsad Zverotic started as did former Manchester City defender Stefan Savic.
England blew hot and cold in a first half riddled with crowd anxiety. Debutant Townsend stirred the pot with a willingness to run at Montenegro’s left side, but otherwise the script said patient build-up.
Welbeck was the first to work stand-in stopper Vukasin Poleksic, but other early openings were off target. Wembley had a hushed and eerie aura throughout. Zverotic tried to chip Joe Hart when he rushed off his line to deal with Damjanovic bearing down on goal.
Jovetic then saw a deflected effort fall kindly for his Manchester City teammate. Steven Gerrard finally worked Poleksic down the other end after half an hour. Poleksic then parried a Townsend effort and Rooney shaved the rebound off the outside of the post with two men square.
Last-ditch defending and set piece holding from Montenegro reduced the Lions to frustration at half time. Much of the tension had a happy release after the break, however, as Rooney poached the opener.
Townsend practically ran the length of the pitch before cutting back for the onrushing Welbeck. Poleksic could only parry his low shot and Rooney smuggled in the rebound. Spurs fullback Kyle Walker then picked up a booking that rules him out of the Poland game.
Hart flew to his left to keep Damjanovic’s flicked header out from the resulting free kick. This save might take some of the sting out of recent criticism. Townsend then saw a low shot from a short corner saved by Poleksic.
Group H standings
- 1. England, 19 points
- 2. Ukraine, 18 points
- 3. Montenegro, 15 points
- 4. Poland, 13 points
- 5. Moldova, 8 points
- 6. San Marino, 0 points
On the hour the Lions’ lead doubled through an own goal. Sturridge’s flick set Welbeck down the left and his cross was diverted past Poleksic by Montenegro midfielder Boskovic. This was a welcome slice of luck lapped up by a lifted Wembley.
Jovetic then rattled Hart’s crossbar at the other end out of almost nothing. This served as a warning to England that their two-goal cushion did not necessarily mean the match was over.
Poleksic somehow kept out Gerrard and then Welbeck from the resulting corner, and, with 20 minutes left, Montenegro pulled one back. Sub Fatos Beciraj saw his cross-shot diverted under Hart by Damjanovic. Replays suggested the striker may have marginally been offside.
Man of the match Townsend capped his first full international appearance with a stunning solo effort. Bounding down the centre at terrified Montenegrin defenders, he let fly with a rasping 25-yard drive which went in off the post 12 minutes from time.
Their two-goal cushion restored, England simply played out time and were gifted a late penalty when Sturridge was felled in the area by Ivan Kecojevic’s desperate lunge. Sturridge dusted himself down and coolly despatched from 12 yards to send Lions fans home with renewed optimism.
It was tour de force Townsend who deserves the plaudits. Hodgson’s selection was bold, but proved a masterstroke. England must still triumph over Poland, who can no longer reach the World Cup, on Tuesday as second place Ukraine can expect a win against minnows San Marino.
- England: 1 Joe Hart, 2 Kyle Walker, 5 Gary Cahill, 6 Phil Jagielka, 3 Leighton Baines, 4 Steven Gerrard (c) (17 James Milner 87’), 8 Frank Lampard (16 Michael Carrick 65’), 7 Andros Townsend (19 Jack Wilshere 80’), 10 Wayne Rooney, 11 Danny Welbeck, 9 Daniel Sturridge 4-2-3-1
- Goals: Wayne Rooney 48’, Brank Boskovic og 62’, Andros Townsend 78’, Daniel Sturridge pen 90’+3
- Montenegro: 1 Vukasin Poleksic, 2 Savo Pavicevic (11 Fatos Beciraj 57’), 6 Ivan Kecojevic, 21 Stefan Savic, 4 Milan Jovanovic, 17 Elsad Zverotic, 18 Nikola Drincic, 23 Branko Boskovic, 5 Vladimir Volkov (7 Simon Vukcevic 72’), 8 Stevan Jovetic (22 Filip Kasalica 81’), 14 Dejan Damjanovic 4-4-1-1
- Goals: Dejan Damjanovic 71’