World Cup - England draw after Montenegro onslaught

World Cup qualifying Group H, City Stadium, Podgorica - Montenegro 1 (Damjanovic 76) England 1 (Rooney 6)

England succumbed to a second-half battering from Montenegro, drawing their World Cup Group H qualifier 1-1 in Podgorica.

Wayne Rooney's early header had given England the lead as they completely dominated the opening period. But a classic game of two halves saw Montenegro come roaring back.

A change of formation to 4-3-3 saw the home side launch attack after attack to leave England reeling, and it was no surprise to see Dejan Damjanovic scramble in the equaliser 15 minutes from time.

Roy Hodgson will be disappointed to see his side so comprehensively outplayed in the second half, but all things considered a draw is a decent result. It keeps England two points behind group leaders Montenegro, who still have to visit Wembley.

It all started so promisingly as England flew out of the traps, making talk of a tough away trip look wildly pessimistic.

For all their coach Branko Brnovic's pre-match bluster, accusing England of getting their excuses in early by questioning the pitch, it was Montenegro who started nervously.

Within three minutes, the hosts were caught out on the break. Goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic slipped as Rooney ran down the right, and the striker hit a 30-yard chip that rebounded off the far post.

Rooney did not have to wait long for his goal, and it resulted from another slip. Three minutes later, his marker Vladimir Volkov fell as a Steven Gerrard came in, leaving the England number nine with the simple task of heading in from eight yards.

Unimpressive defending from a side who had kept four clean sheets in their five qualifiers.

So often dismissed as an international underachiever, Rooney has quietly put together an impressive run of goals.

His header made him the first Englishman in a decade to score in four consecutive qualifiers - David Beckham was the last. He now has 35 goals from his 81 caps, closing the gap to four behind Michael Owen who sits fourth all-time.

But Rooney has more to admire than his finishing, and he was at the heart of most things positive from an England side playing with far more coherence than usual.

Manchester United - and their manager Alex Ferguson in particular - are not seen as friends of the England team, but they supplied five starters and the quartet of Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick revelled in a familiarity grown over years at club level. Chris Smalling, starting alongside Joleon Lescott in the centre of defence, completed the United contingent.

The first half was as impressive as any away performance since a Theo Walcott-inspired England thrashed Croatia 4-1 in 2008.

Then everything changed. Brnovic showed tactical nous to back up his fighting talk, bringing on Damjanovic and switching to a 4-3-3 with the substitute playing on the right, Stevan Jovetic on the left and Mirko Vucinic through the middle.

Jovetic and Vucinic, Montenegro's danger pair, had flickered briefly but rarely shone, but the change set them free. Within a minute of the restart they won a corner, and within three Jovetic headed agonisingly into the side netting with half the ground mistakenly celebrating a goal.

Only a barrage of toilet paper in the penalty box gave England any respite, but Montenegro were swiftly back on the offensive, cheered noisily on by a gravelly voiced announcer on the public address system.

England's composure deserted them, but the home side's finishing lacked precision. Jovetic miscued a volley, while Vucinic volleyed over before sidefooting wide from the edge of the box.

Joe Hart nearly spilled a subsequent Vucinic effort over his own line as England's jitters continued, though the keeper did rather better parrying a Jovetic effort for a corner.

But the set piece led to an almighty goalmouth scramble, with England allowing a free header then twice failing to clear before Damjanovic eventually scuffed the ball home.

Hodgson belatedly removed the tiring Cleverley and England mounted a late mini-revival in which Gerrard brought two saves from Mladen Bozovic. But an English winner would have been exceptionally harsh on Montenegro.

The small Balkan nation with a population 85 times smaller than England's continues to punch above its weight.


Dejan Damjanovic (Montenegro): His half-time introduction changed the game, adding spark and creativity to the Montenegrin attack. Fitting that he scored the equaliser, even if it was not a classic.


MONTENEGRO: M Bozovic 7, Basa 8, Savic 7, V Bozovic 7, Dzudovic 6, Vukcevic 7, Volkov 6, Novakovic 5, Zverotic 7, Vucinic 7, Jovetic 7; Subs: Damjanovic 8, Krkotic 7, Delibasic 6.

ENGLAND: Hart 6, Johnson 6, Lescott 7, Smalling 6, Cole 7, Milner 5, Carrick 7, Gerrard 6, Cleverley 6, Welbeck 7, Rooney 7; Sub: Young 6.