England v Montenegro
11 Oct 2013 - 8:00 PM
England kept their place at the top of Group H with a 4-1 win over Montenegro and ensured their World Cup hopes remain firmly in their hands.
All five goals came in the second half at Wembley after a first period that saw Roy Hodgson’s men pepper the visitors goal. Wayne Rooney finally broke the deadlock three minutes after the turn-around before a Bosko Brankovic’s own goal doubled their advantage.
A fine strike from man of the match Andros Townsend and a late penalty from Daniel Sturridge secured all three points and took the group to a two-way battle between England and Ukraine.
With the Ukrainians beating Poland, only two teams can now progress. Ukraine face San Marino on Tuesday, but know that England will go through automatically if they can finish their group campaign off with victory at home to Poland.
At Wembley in the first part of this week’s deciding double-header, England came out with attacking intentions, highlighted by the debut handed to Tottenham Hotspur winger Townsend in a forward-thinking Hodgson line-up.
From the kick-off they went hunting for an early opener as chances came to Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge inside five minutes, but neither could really test Vukasin Poleksic.
Wayne Rooney also saw a 20-yard deflected drive bounce just wide of the upright, while another Welbeck effort was pushed around the post by the goalkeeper.
Most of the game was being played in the visitors half, but they did offer a threat on the break with Stevan Jovetic and Dejan Damjanovic providing an outlet.
A couple of long balls forward did turn England’s defence but Joe Hart swept away the danger. Fulham’s Elsad Zverotic also tried a shot from the halfway line with Hart out of his area, but it was way off the mark.
At the other end, England kept knocking as news filtered through of Ukraine's lead against Poland. A Welbeck header on the half-hour from Leighton Baines’ free-kick went just wide, then a Steven Gerrard curler was parried for a corner by the stretching Poleksic.
Hodgson’s men continued to attack with pace, and with five minutes to go before half-time Townsend was released in space down the right. He made a bee-line for the box before shooting low towards goal. Poleksic beat it out, but Rooney was the first on the scene. However, from a tight angle he crashed the ball against the outside of the Montenegro post.
Branko Brnovic’s men were riding their luck slightly, and when another attack instigated by Sturridge set up Welbeck, his shot looked good, but a deflection took it wide. Sturridge then drilled an effort off target from the corner, and in a frantic finish to the first half his near post flick from a Rooney cross was guided away by a defender.
After trying to turn the screw for the majority of the first half, England were out in similar fashion after the break and finally got the goal their endeavours deserved. Townsend carried the ball from deep inside his own half down the right wing and centred towards the penalty spot. Welbeck was arriving on cue, but found Poleksic again in defiant mood.
However the Debrecen stopper could not hold on and Rooney was on hand to slip home the rebound from six yards.
Montenegro needed to go on the attack, knowing that their World Cup would be over if they failed to get anything from the game, following Ukraine’s victory. Hart was called into action to make his first real save when Damjanovic, scorer of Montenegro’s important equaliser against England in March, flicked an inswinging free-kick goalwards. The Manchester City man handled the problem well.
Hodgson’s men were then dealt a slice of good fortune to extend their lead. Sturridge’s back-heel set Welbeck on his way down the left channel and he crossed low into the area. With no white shirts in attendance, it looked an easy clearance for Brankovic but he somehow skewed the ball beyond Poleksic and into the net.
But they were left with a potentially nervy final 20 minutes when Damjanovic found the back of the net, after a series of England chances went begging.
The Three Lions had been given a warning moments earlier when Manchester City’s Stevan Jovetic cracked a long-range effort against his club-mate’s crossbar. His next attempt was nowhere near as good, but Damjanovic anticipated well, just beating the offside trap to guide home first time.
Montenegro’s revival did not last long, however, and it was Townsend, impressive on his first outing at senior level, who did the damage again.
After a patient build-up, Townsend collected a pass deep inside Montenegro territory, set himself in space and unleashed a pile-driver that swerved away from Poleksic and went crashing in off the post.
The Spurs winger’s ovation moments later as he was replaced by Jack Wilshere was well and truly deserved.
England’s win was wrapped up in the final minute when Sturridge, who had been fouled on the bye-line by Ivan Kecojevic, stepped up to take the penalty and despatched with ease.