One down, one to go
England edged closer to World Cup qualification with a 4-1 win over Montenegro at Wembley on Friday. Now only Poland stand in the way of a trip to Brazil. For all the debate, Adam Bate thinks that means Roy Hodgson is one game away from fulfilling his remit.
By Adam Bate - Follow @GhostGoal. Last Updated: 11/10/13 11:59pm
Andros Townsend starring for England was a triumph for him and his manager
One game to go. One win needed to secure England's place at the 2014 World Cup. Poland, for old times' sake, will be the opponents. But after a 4-1 win over Montenegro at Wembley on Friday evening, Roy Hodgson and his England team can at least go into the contest with a little confidence and that other precious intangible called momentum. Not that you'd have known it at half time. The England manager had stressed the need for patience in the build-up to the game. And with good reason. After all, everyone seems to get rather jittery where the Three Lions are concerned.
Such is the excessive introspection regarding the national game, Hodgson and his players were forced to go into a crucial qualifier against the familiar backdrop of debate about the state of English football. An FA commission has been set up to look at where it's going wrong. Throw in the serialisation of a new book by Harry Redknapp and the England boss came into this one under significant pressure.
There is justifiable excitement about English prospects such as Ross Barkley and Ravel Morrison. Even a furore over not-so-English talent such as Adnan Januzaj. There's the Cinderella story of an ageing former beetroot factory worker. It's a recipe for populist appeal. But while others can sell dreams of tiki-taka football to the public from the comfort of a punditry sofa or offer vague talk of exciting and expansive football, Hodgson is the one confronted with the reality.
Daniel Sturridge added late gloss to the scoreline with an injury-time penalty
In that sense, the current incumbent might not be the man English football wants but he might be the one it needs right now. For his remit is rather different. His job is to tackle the immediate problems. With a record of seven wins and six draws from 13 competitive fixtures, Hodgson is entitled to believe he's doing an efficient job of it. After the need for a little of that aforementioned patience, Montenegro were duly dispatched. What's more, you couldn't even call it boring.
In particular, the cautious selection of James Milner was uncharacteristically eschewed in favour of the more adventurous option of Andros Townsend. In attack, Premier League top scorer Daniel Sturridge was picked alongside Wayne Rooney. In a match for which experience might have seemed a prerequisite, Hodgson turned to a debutant and a player making only his second England start - the first of which ended through injury after a mere 30 minutes of football.
Task getting clearer for Roy
Of course, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard formed the central midfield pairing at a combined age of 68 years old. Death, taxes and all that. But with Leighton Baines impressing in a rare competitive start at left-back in the absence of Ashley Cole and Townsend emerging as the clear man of the match in a four-goal display, this was surely a triumph for Hodgson whether by accident or design.
There are still problems. Watching England pepper the visitors' box with a series of corners in the first half was a reminder of some of the qualities Jack Wilshere might have added to his infamous list of English football's characteristics. Pump the ball into the area, look for the knockdowns and lift the crowd's spirits with hopeful efforts from distance. Sturridge skewed wide. Danny Welbeck blasted over. Gerrard scuffed the ball into the keeper's hands. No subtlety and no playing between the lines - it looked suspiciously like the 4-4-2 that dare not speak its name.
Leighton Baines was among a number of impressive performers for England on Friday
And Montenegro offered resistance, even if it was of the particularly joyless variety hinted at by their national anthem. Indeed, when hapless Manchester City favourite Stefan Savic was busy producing world-class blocks, Wembley was entitled to feel a little nervous. Not our night et cetera. But this was England's night, or rather more specifically, it was Townsend's night. The Tottenham winger had been viewed with some scepticism in some quarters given the alarming statistics - no goals, no assists and 26 shots for Spurs so far this season. But incongruously, this was a performance that oozed end product.
His driving run brought the breakthrough. In fact, his dribbling hinted at being the key to England's success right from the start of the game. As it was, the country had to wait until the early stages of the second half when Townsend's cross found its way to Welbeck and his low shot was only parried into the path of Rooney for the forward to force the ball home. An own goal doubled the lead before Dejan Damjanovic pulled one back. And then came Townsend's moment. An injection of pace to create space and a fierce shot with his supposedly weaker right foot that arrowed into the corner of the net.
It was a feel-good moment on what proved to be a feel-good evening, capped by Sturridge's injury-time penalty. There have been a few such moments of late. Rickie Lambert's goal against Scotland. A trio of England players reaching the 100 club. And despite the concerns, plenty of goals going in. Only Germany and Holland have scored as many as England in qualifying.
But still the concerns will continue. Every 90 minutes of action will be pored over with analysis of everything from the team selection to what the pass completion accuracy can tell us about the future direction of the English game. Hodgson will have to settle for the three points. If he can double that tally on Tuesday then - FA commissions, book serialisations and debates about the nature of nationality aside - the England boss will have done the job that was required. Can anyone really expect any more than that?
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying
Fri 11th Oct - Group B
Armenia2 - 1Bulgaria
Malta1 - 4Czech Rep
Denmark2 - 2Italy
Fri 11th Oct - Group G
Lithuania2 - 0Latvia
Bos & Herz4 - 1Liechtenstein
Greece1 - 0Slovakia
Fri 11th Oct - Group A
Croatia1 - 2Belgium
Wales1 - 0Macedonia
Fri 11th Oct - Group F
Azerbaijan2 - 0N Ireland
Luxembourg0 - 4Russia
Portugal1 - 1Israel
Fri 11th Oct - Group H
Moldova3 - 0San Marino
Ukraine1 - 0Poland
England4 - 1Montenegro
Fri 11th Oct - Group C
Faroe Islands1 - 1Kazakhstan
Sweden2 - 1Austria
Germany3 - 0Rep Ireland
Fri 11th Oct - Group E
Albania1 - 2Switzerland
Slovenia3 - 0Norway
Iceland2 - 0Cyprus
Fri 11th Oct - Group D
Holland8 - 1Hungary
Andorra0 - 4Romania
Estonia0 - 2Turkey
Fri 11th Oct - Group I
Spain2 - 1Belarus
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group A
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group B
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group C
|4||Republic of Ireland||10||14|
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group D
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group E
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group F
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group G
|1||Bosnia and Herzegovina||10||25|
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group H
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying Group I
England v Montenegro
Andros Townsend has spoken of his pride at his memorable debut with England against Montenegro on Friday night.
Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling has been called into the England squad for Tuesday's World Cup qualifier with Poland.
Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard were key against Montenegro, Peter Taylor told Sky Sports News.
- Hodgson: Job only half done
- Gerrard praise for Hodgson
- Rooney - Opening goal vital
- Hodgson feels pride restored
- Rate the players
- Townsend puts Brazil in sight
- England debut for Townsend
- England lose injured Cleverley
- Forward thinking
- Sturridge thrilling Gerrard
- Hodgson: 'England expects'
- Jamie's England XI
- Gerrard denies Redknapp text
- Roy: Row hasn't affected Jack
- Hodgson's third way?
- No absentees as England train
- Weight of a nation
- Hodgson's third way?
- Rooney lauds 'leader' Gerrard
- Harper hails keeper decision
- Rooney praises England attack
- Wilshere clarifies comments
- Jovetic: We don't fear England
- Jagielka: We all back Hart