England’s positive start faded badly in Podgorica and Montenegro deservedly cancelled out Wayne Rooney’s early goal 14 minutes from time to secure a potentially vital point in the World Cup qualifier.
The visitors were impressive throughout the first half and went ahead inside 10 minutes through Rooney’s header, but Roy Hodgson’s side failed to respond to an improved Montenegro after the break and few were surprised when Dejan Damjanovic equalized.
The result means that Montenegro remain two points ahead of England atop their qualification group, albeit with the Balkan nation still having to visit Wembley later this year.
Montenegro coach Branko Brnovic claimed beforehand that their opponents were scared into the contest, but the visitors looked anything but in the early going as they played with a verve and freedom rarely witnessed in an England side in recent times.
After five minutes, England had already struck the woodwork twice. The first came after a fine piece of individual skill from Rooney as he burst forward down the right and from more than 25 yards out executed a delightful chip that beat Mladen Bozovic but came back off the far post.
Next it was Glen Johnson’s turn to test the frame of the goal as he struck a rasping rising effort on his weaker left foot from outside the box that Bozovic just touched onto the crossbar.
The warning signs were there and from the resulting corner, on six minutes, England were in front. Steven Gerrard supplied the set piece form the left and Rooney rose well at the back post to head down and past the goalkeeper from eight yards.
Slowly Montenegro began to get some kind of foothold in the game, but, now playing for large parts on the counter attack, England were still comfortable and creating the better openings.
The lead could have been extended by half time as Rooney was just unable to turn in James Milner’s cross at the far post, while Welbeck was booked for diving in the box when there appeared, at least, some contact.
For Montenegro, their two stars were covering plenty of ground but were struggling to truly impact proceedings with Stevan Jovetic largely toiling isolated up front as Mirko Vucinic forced to search out the ball in deep areas.
But the home side came out reinvigorated after the break to get the crowd in Podgorica fully behind them and put England under ever increasing pressure.
Jovetic should have drawn his side level but he headed inches wide into the side netting when he looked poised to score after a stood-up cross to the far post.
England’s composed and positive play from the first half had deserted them as they started dropping deep and carelessness began to creep in.
Montenegro had another presentable chance to draw level just before the hour mark but Vucinic’s finishing also deserted him when Joleon Lescott headed poorly straight to the Juventus man in the middle of the area but he side-footed over the bar.
When Joe Hart almost dropped a simple Vucinic shot into his own net it summed up the deterioration in England’s level of performance. Moments later, Hart could get nowhere near another Vucinic effort and was relieved to see it curl just past the post.
It was the “Two Ferrari’s,” as Montenegro’s coach described them, which were posing all the danger for an increasingly anxious looking England. Hart produced his best save of the match to deny Jovetic with the match entering the final 20 minutes. From the resulting corner England escaped again as Jovetic’s header deflected off of Gerrard and onto the box.
The goal, though, was coming and with the next corner it finally arrived.
England failed to clear the ball as it pinged around in the box following Hart’s save from Damjanovic’s header and the substitute finally took the chance to tuck the ball home.
Having got back on level terms, Montenegro appeared to settle for what they had, knowing it meant staying ahead in the group. England, meanwhile, found some intensity again but couldn’t muster a winner despite two good efforts late on from Gerrard.