Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Montenegro hold England at Wembley

England 0 Montenegro 0: England were booed off the Wembley pitch last night as they failed to score at the rebuilt stadium for the first time and had their 11-match winning streak on home soil ended by Montenegro.

Formerly part of Yugoslavia and attached to Serbia in footballing terms until 2006, Montenegro's population is roughly the same as Leeds.

And there was definitely a Yorkshire cussed streak about the Eastern Europeans, who ground out a result that throws England's Euro 2012 qualification hopes back into the melting pot.

If there is any consolation it was that the result did not end up being worse as Milan Jovanovic's snap-shot came bouncing back off the bar seven minutes from time with Joe Hart beaten completely.

Nevertheless, the Three Lions have certainly conceded the initiative to their opponents, who now have 10 points from four games, three more than England, who have played a game fewer, with everything pointing towards a group decider in Podgorica on October 7 next year.

As Montenegro arrived nursing a hat-trick of single goal victories but without main striker Mirko Vucinic, the game's pattern was not hard to predict.

Although the visitors did offer a sporadic threat, most of their industry was concentrated in the third of the field England struggled to penetrate.

It took no time at all for England to work out there was no clear path through, so they attempted to go long and wide instead.

A series of raking Steven Gerrard passes to the touchline released Adam Johnson and Ashley Young, although the end product was lacking.

Gerrard looked as though he was trying to prove a point.

Overlooked for the captaincy by Fabio Capello, the Liverpool skipper remains the English heartbeat. If anyone could break Montenegro down, it would probably be him.

Had Peter Crouch's legs been just long enough to reach another of those potentially inspired passes, delivered from inside Gerrard's own half, as it bounced into the area, the whole game might have changed.

As it was, Crouch was unable to make contact, which at least he was able to do when Glen Johnson curled over a cross from the right, only for the Tottenham man, so prolific for his country, to steer his header over.

Apart from that, the nearest England came was through a long-range free-kick from Adam Johnson, who looked quite comfortable on his first competitive start.

The effort flashed wide but at least Mladen Bozovic had a brief moment of panic, which was a rarity in itself.

Hunting in packs, not afraid to concede free-kicks to halt England's momentum, collect yellow cards when the need arose and willing to make the most of knocks they suffered to disrupt the game even further, it didn't make for much of a spectacle. It was very effective though.

Having dropped too deep in that opening period, Gerrard tried to push into a more advanced position.

He provided the pass which allowed a previously quiet Wayne Rooney to fire a long-range effort over.

It was a frustrating evening for the Manchester United man though, who after voicing his protests at Stefan Savic's cynical challenge on Ashley Cole that brought a booking, duly picked one up himself when he raced back 50 yards and needlessly slid in to trip Elsad Zverotic and earn one himself.

Almost an hour had passed before England created a decent chance.

Not surprisingly, it was created for Rooney by Gerrard, who picked his fellow Merseysider out inside the penalty area with a perfectly weighted pass.

Rooney was onto it in an instant but Bozovic was equal to his first-time effort and pounced on the loose ball before Crouch could turn it home.

When Young was ruled to have dived trying to win a penalty when he tumbled over Miodrag Dzudovic, it was the trigger for a period of more English frustration as Montenegro stubbornly failed to drift from their one dimensional game plan.

Capello's response was to make Kevin Davies England's oldest debutant since 1950. Davies, predictably, was booked before the end.

He also provided Rooney with the neat cushioned header that ended with Bozovic making another fine save to deny the striker.

Capello was reduced to screaming for a penalty when Jovanovic appeared to use an arm to get the ball under control with no-one around him.

Jovanovic got away with that one, and almost profited in spectacular fashion at the other end with a shot that came crashing back off the bar, so close to sealing the finest result in Montenegro's short history.

In truth, it probably still was.

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