ENGLAND 4, MONTENEGRO 1
England emerged victorious on a nervy night at Wembley to remain on course for automatic qualification for the finals of the World Cup.
It took a goal from Andros Townsend on his debut 12 minutes from time to finally see off Montenegro to set up Tuesday’s group decider against Poland.
And a victory against the Poles will ensure England are on the plane to Brazil next summer as winners of Group H rather than having to endure a tense play-off match to get to the finals via the back door.
It was a hugely significant win for England as it was the first in five matches against Montenegro, Poland and Ukraine, their rivals for top spot in the group.
Roy Hodgson described it as a job “half done” as he was only too aware that England must beat Poland to guarantee top spot.
England’s manager admitted it was a tense night, especially after the goalless opening period as he explained: “We had chances and a few skirmishes, but sometimes you worry when you are up against a wall of players and cannot find a way through.
“We were 2-0 ahead and they were not a threat and then got a goal out of the blue. It put wind in their sails and took it out of ours.
“It was a big moment when Andros scored our third goal. He made a big impact and must be delighted after being named man of the match.
“It must not have been easy making a debut in a game of that measure, but was calm and composed and managed to reproduce I saw when watching him play for QPR and Spurs.”
Goals from Wayne Rooney, Townsend, Daniel Sturridge and Branko Boskovic, who found his own net, finally saw off the spirited challenge of the nation from the Balkans to the relief of the fans at Wembley and supporters watching from the nation’s armchairs.
England made a bright start, but their early goal attempts were all off target as Danny Welbeck, Rooney, Sturridge and Steven Gerrard failed to hit the target with long-range efforts.
The closest England came to making a breakthrough was at the mid-way point of the half when Leighton Baines set up Sturridge whose angled shot was beaten behind by keeper Vukasin Poleksic for a corner.
Welbeck flashed a header narrowly wide from a Baines cross while Gerrard’s 30-yard drive was well turned round the post by Poleksic as England continued to carve out chances.
They almost found a route to goal in the 40th minute when debut-making Andros Townsend brought a decent diving save from Poleksic, but Rooney’s angled follow-up shot struck the outside of the upright.
England ramped up the pressure just before the break as Welbeck had an effort deflected for a corner and Sturridge saw two shots fly just wide as they mustered 13 chances in the opening period without finding the net.
The frayed nerves of the nation were finally eased when Rooney fired England ahead in the 49th minute.
Townsend made a break virtually the length of the field. His cross was headed out to Welbeck whose drive was superbly saved by Poleksic only for Rooney to fire home the rebound from six yards under the keeper for his 37th international goal.
There was still no room for complacency from England as Montenegro almost snatched an equaliser soon after with a glanced header from Dejan Damjanovic following a free kick was superbly saved by keeper Joe Hart diving full length to his left.
England sealed victory in the 62nd minute in fortuitous circumstances as Branko Boskovic fired past his own keeper from 14 yards as he attempted to clear a Welbeck cross.
Montenegro were determined to go down with all guns blazing as Stevan Jovetic struck a thunderbolt shot from 30 yards which beat City team-mate Hart but crashed against the crossbar.
Poleksic made important saves to deny Gerrard and Welbeck as England came close to exyending their lead.
England weren’t able to relax when Montenegro halved the deficit with 19 minutes left. Substitute Fatos Beqiraj’s free kick was well off target until Damjanovic diverted it low past Hart.
But their nerves were settled by Townsend with 12 minutes remaining as he made a burst down the centre of the field before seeing his 25-yard drive fly into the let off the upright to the left of keeper Poleksic.
And there was the gloss of a fourth goal in stoppage time, a penalty from Sturridge, after Welbeck had been brought down by Vladamir Volkov.