After breaking an England home game hiatus lasting some twenty years I pitched up at Wembley Stadium for England’s vital World Cup qualifying match with Montenegro. It promised to be a nervy encounter, as pretty much all England games have become in recent times. Meaning no disrespect, since when did England become scared of countries like Montenegro? Barely six years independent from Serbia and with a population that would fit snugly into a city the size of Sheffield, surely the collective might of the Premier League’s finest would prove too strong.
I have a growing admiration for England’s current manager, Roy Hodgson, well spoken, unflappable and seeming skeleton-in-the-closet free, the well travelled manager had steered a reasonable if unspectacular course through the choppy waters of the latest World Cup qualification campaign. Yet with two games left only a maximum of six points would ensure group victory and the golden ticket to Brazil 2014.
Even the most well informed experts, pundits and journalists must have had an opened mouth moment when the sly old fox Hodgson named uncapped, untried and untested Tottenham winger Andros Townsend in the starting eleven. Only the pre-season before the current one I had witnessed Townsend in the Tottenham developmental squad systematically dismantle my beloved Southend United in a painful 6-0 pre-season friendly defeat. Also in the team was the scandalously under-capped Leighton Baines in for the injured Ashley Cole.
The first half was a cagey affair, punctuated at times by some half chances that a less edgy team may have converted. The upbeat crowd quietened audibly upon the news that group rivals Ukraine had taken the lead against Poland. Yet again England seemed to be content at passing between each other and waiting for something to happen. Where did our creativity go?
The second half started in sterner fashion, the team palpably aware of scores elsewhere looked more energised. It was Townsend that broke forward at pace and after the visitors failed to clear, it was Wayne Rooney that settled the nerves. Ironically it was a Montenegrin player that settled the game beyond reasonable doubt, Branko Boskovic, needlessly turning an unthreatening ball past his own goalkeeper.
It seemed that the crown prince of Montenegrin football, Stefan Jovetic, was having an off night, barely noticeable in an injury ravaged visiting team. The man who was worshipped in Florence has really struggled to find his Premier League feet since his big money move to ManchesterCity. It was left to Korean based forward Dejan Damjanovic to momentarily give the large Wembley crowd renewed jitters.
The match was sealed with the definitive moment of the game, Townsend gilded a momentous debut with a goal of clinical quality and skill. Even off the ball his reading of the game and work rate was a real joy to watch. An injury time penalty gave the result a slightly flattering look when Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge picked himself up to score from the spot after being upended by Ivan Kecojevic.
So what could be gauged from the match? Nobody played badly, though better teams could have punished the occasional defensive absentmindedness. The stand out player, Townsend aside, was the majestic but still second choice left back. One does have to wonder how many more of the Andros Townsend generation are waiting to hit the ground running for their country. More pertinently maybe is how long the likes of Townsend can remain so brazenly fearless before they too become burdened by the weight of a nation’s expectation.
World Cup Qualifier – 11/10/2013
England (0) 4 (Rooney 49, Boskovic og 62, Townsend 78, Sturridge pen 90)
Montenegro (0) 1 (Damjanovic 71)
Attendance: 83,807 (at Wembley Stadium)
1. Joe Hart; 2. Kyle Walker; 3. Leighton Baines; 4. Steve Gerrard; 5. Gary Cahill; 6. Phil Jagielka; 7. Andros Townsend; 8. Frank Lampard; 9. Daniel Sturridge; 10. Wayne Rooney; 11. Danny Welbeck.
Subs: 12. Chris Smalling; 13. John Ruddy; 14. Kieran Gibbs; 15. Phil Jones; 16. Michael Carrick (for 8,65 mins); 17. James Milner (for 4,87 mins); 18. Ross Barkley; 19. Jack Wilshere (for 7,80 mins); 20. Jermain Defoe; 21. Ricky Lambert; 22. Fraser Forster.
1. Vukasin Poleskic; 2. Savo Pavicevic; 4. Milan Jovanovic; 18. Nikola Drincic; 6. Ivan Kecojevic; 21. Stefan Savic; 17. Elsad Zverotic; 23. Branko Boskovic; 8. Stefan Jovetic; 14. Dejan Damjanovic; 5. Vladimir Volkov.
Subs: 3. Marko Vesocic; 7. Simon Vukevic (for 5,72 mins); 10. Andrija Delibasic; 11. Fatos Beciraj (for 2,57 mins); 12. Srdan Blazic; 13. Mitar Novakovic; 15. Milos Krkotic; 16. Blazo Igumanovic; 19. Ivan Janjusevic; 22. Filip Kasalica (for 8,81 mins)
Yellow Cards: Walker (England); Pavicevic and Volkov (Montenegro).